For reasons I’ve never really understood, physiotherapists seem really reluctant to tell their work stories. I’m not talking about the conversations we’ve all had with our partners, families and friends about interesting clinical problems we’ve faced or patients we’ve treated, but rather the kinds of things that give us pause to reflect on what we’re doing, or make us think that there’s a lesson here that others could share in.
A long time ago, doctors, midwives, nurses and psychologists recognised the value of stories, giving birth to the whole idea of narrative-based medicine and the medical humanities. But physiotherapists have been slow on the uptake.
The latest edition of the journal Qualitative Inquiry – a bastion of innovation in qualitative research methodology – illustrates my point (link). There is a ‘three-part autoethnographic short story [that] explores the materiality of loss,’ a ‘found poem created from a selection of poems published in indexed peer-reviewed social science journals between 2007 and 2012,’ and a paper exploring ‘three versions of adventurous writing.’
Most tellingly, there is a paper titled Writing Paralysis in (Post) Qualitative Research (link) which uses the form of the academic article as a vehicle to explore how to write with, against and through paralysis.
Sally French, the well-known publisher of Physiotherapy: A Psychosocial Approach has used narrative forms of writing to tell her own story of her visual impairment, but few others have followed suit.
Perhaps physiotherapists think that their stories are less worthy, or less interesting than other people’s stories? Certainly, our current crop of journals give little encouragement to experimental and creative writing as a serious scholarly form. But that shouldn’t stop physiotherapists exploring narrative approaches to practice, particularly these days with the easy availability of Internet publishing.
Many physiotherapists have started to take to blogging as a way to explore their practice, and it is telling how the most read posts are based on people’s real work experience. But so far many of the posts adhere to the unwritten rule that physiotherapists should only talk about clinical problems. It would be nice if we could develop some kind of new publishing forum where people can develop robust, thoughtful, scholarly writing on physiotherapy practice, and draw on some of the amazing health literature that is now emerging using narrative as its primary mode of engagement.
French, S., & Sim, J. (2004). Physiotherapy: A Psychosocial Approach (3rd ed.). London: Elsevier.