Without wanting to sound too dramatic, my first experience of hosting yesterday’s @physiotalk tweet chat felt like running with the bulls at Pamplona! It certainly was exhilarating. And what it also threw up were some thoughts about how physios currently relate to philosophy.
Just to recap, I was asked to run a Physiotalk tweet chat last week on the subject of philosophy and physiotherapy. I prepared some pre-reading and some questions to prompt discussion (you can see these here), and then logged on at the appointed time to facilitate the discussion.
Tweets fly in thick and fast and it’s quite a job to keep on top of everything that’s going on, but the hour flew by and a lot of people seemed to engage and enjoy themselves. There were a few common themes that came up though, that I’ve spent some time reflecting on since.
I was really heartened to see that there was a lot of interest in the idea of philosophy and physiotherapy. There were a lot of people posting who had a really diverse set of interests in areas like research, pedagogy and critical theory, and there was a confidence in the way people felt free to express their ideas that I hadn’t seen before setting up this Critical Physiotherapy Network.
But I also got the sense that people saw philosophy as something separate to physiotherapy – as something to be added or subtracted at will – something physios had not really concentrated on in the past, but should now do more of.
Similarly, people seemed to me to identify with the common (mis)conception that philosophy is really all about thinking, and that this wasn’t something that appealed to most physios, who are by their nature practical and pragmatic people. Some said that physios see philosophical ideas as ‘fluffy’ and ‘soft’ rather than the ‘hard’ sciences that they are so used to.
It seems to me that this exchange might have inadvertently provided a way forward for our Network. We’ve said that we want to make it a priority to help physios understand philosophy, but it’s hard to know where to start with such a big subject. Maybe this tweet chat has provided a pointer?
I would suggest that for physiotherapists to embrace philosophy we can start with four relatively simple ideas:
Firstly, we need to explain that there is no practice or thought that isn’t underpinned by philosophy. There is no idea that a physio can have that operates in a philosophical vacuum. Physiotherapy is not atheoretical just because physios don’t know what the underpinning philosophical ideas are. So there is no getting away from philosophy, only ignorance to its effects. And if our profession is going to continue to be satisfied to work only on the surface of our patient’s and community’s need, then we deserve to be replaced by someone who will attend to these things.
Secondly, we could show people how philosophy is every bit about how people live in the real world, that it’s not just about lofty theorizing or abstract ideas (although I’ve got absolutely no problem with this kind of thinking as well), but is every bit as practical as physiotherapy. Giving people ideas for the way people live with pain, cope with functional challenges, find happiness in movement, experience the world through their bodies, challenge social norms, etc., might be just the thing to get people to see that philosophy is already there in physiotherapy. (For a great example of this, see this short film on Running and ask yourself why it is that this got labelled as psychology and not physiotherapy).
Thirdly, we should be honest and acknowledge that philosophy is hard. It is full of complex language and confusing, often contradictory ideas. But anatomy, physiology and pathology are hard too. They’re also full of odd names and weird abstract concepts. But we managed! We managed to wade through hours of theory to get to the point where we knew how to apply what we’d learnt. We benefited from some awesome teachers (or we did it ourselves when our teachers were rubbish!), and we had guidebooks to help us. Should we expect physios to grasp philosophy without the same investment in first principles?
Finally, we should tell people that we’re not doing this alone. In fact, physiotherapy is coming quite late to the philosophical party. There is much written already about how to apply philosophical ideas to everyday life that there’s really no excuse to think that it’s aloof or detached from reality anymore (see, for example, www.theschooloflife.com). Doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and a host of others have all embraced philosophy and there is a mass of ready-to-use material that we can steal, I mean borrow, to help develop the philosophical capacity of our profession.
So I’d be very keen to hear from anyone else who tuned in to the tweet chat yesterday to see what they thought about the discussion, or anyone who wants to add their comments to the post.