Atlanta, GA,
09:49 AM

Working for a Win for Everyone

Shepherd Center Physical Therapist Catherine Farrell, PT, NCS, loves seeing patients reach their goals.

Q: How long have you worked at Shepherd Center?

I just celebrated 20 years at Shepherd Center this year. I’m a physical therapist in activity-based therapy in the inpatient Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Rehabilitation Program.

Q: How did you know you wanted to be a physical therapist?

In high school, my dominant hand got injured, and I had to go to physical therapy. That was my first introduction to it, and being a patient myself, I saw how it impacted my life. I loved going to physical therapy and seeing the benefits. My hand injury was minor compared to what our patients go through, but physical therapy made a huge difference for me, and it's awesome to be able to do that for others.

Q: What is activity-based therapy?

In activity-based therapy, our focus is to help restore function. We use neuroplasticity principles to help patients meet goals that are meaningful for them, and we focus more on recovery of skills versus compensation to complete a task. We do that through lots of repetition and high-intensity, task-specific training.

 Q: Tell us more about how you apply principles of neuroplasticity to help patients reach their goals?

The nervous system is dynamic – it’s an ever-changing system adapting to the demands that we place on it. So, in activity-based therapy, we try to put the right demands on the nervous system through activities such as weight-bearing repetition or body-weight-supported treadmill training, focusing on the right muscles and the right timing for movement to give the body a chance to respond appropriately for the activity you're trying to achieve.

 Q: What do you love most about your job?

I think the luxury of activity-based therapy is we complement what the primary therapists are already doing. They are working on very important goals of returning to daily skills such as getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed. And those are all super important things, and we all need to do that. However, that's not the primary goal of why you get up every day, right? Our goal is to go to work, enjoy an activity, spend time socializing, or do other things. So, while we are helping the primary therapist meet those basic goals, we also focus on what the patient wants to accomplish in life outside of those.

We want our patients to be as independent as possible and to be able to achieve goals that are meaningful for them, and when that happens, those are great days. It's a win for patients, families, and therapists. Frankly, everyone wins. It impacts all our lives. It's so rewarding to be able to be a part of that.

Interesting Facts


Medical College of Georgia (now Augusta University)

  • Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy

Board-certified as a neurologic specialist, American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties

Fun Facts

  • Catherine is married and has two children and a greyhound named Candy.
  • She enjoys mentoring seventh graders in a leadership training program called Teach One to Lead One.
  • Her husband and brother recently opened Skint Chestnut Brewing Company in Powder Springs, Georgia, so when she’s not working at Shepherd Center, you might find Catherine behind the bar at the brewery, serving pints of their hazy IPA.
  • Catherine loves outdoor activities, including hiking and kayaking.






About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.