BACKGROUND: Previous research suggests physiotherapists' perceived frequency of contact with clients experiencing psychological distress is common; however, there is significant variation in the frequency of such contact.
OBJECTIVE: The study aimed to 1) investigate Australian physiotherapists' perceived frequency of contact with clients experiencing various forms of psychological distress; 2) identify potential factors that predict perceived frequency of contact; and 3) explore physiotherapists' beliefs regarding their role and self-reported capability to identify and assess psychological distress.
METHODS: A nationwide online survey of 340 Australian physiotherapists was conducted, and the data were analyzed using descriptive analysis and regression analysis.
RESULTS: Physiotherapists' perceived frequencies of contact with psychologically distressed and severely distressed clients expressed as proportions of all clients seen each week were 36.1% and 15.6%, respectively. Factors related to the clinical setting were stronger predictors of the perceived frequency of contact (Cohen's f 2 = 0.16) than factors related to the physiotherapists themselves (Cohen's f 2 = 0.03). Despite believing that identifying psychological distress was within their scope of practice, the physiotherapists in the study felt that assessing and managing this distress fell outside or on the boundary of their scope of practice.
CONCLUSION: Australian physiotherapists frequently encounter clients they perceive to be experiencing psychological distress. Future research into physiotherapists' capability to assess and respond to client psychological distress, using non-self-reported measures, is required.