Having been part of the Physiotherapy Department at AUT for the last 15 years, I moved into a new school at the start of the year, and the new school put me in close proximity to psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors. My job has involved getting to know how they think and work, and trying to organise the day-to-day business of teaching and learning for these professionals who think very differently to the physiotherapists I have worked with for so long.
Working with these people has given me new perspectives on ways people think about health care, students, patients, other professions, and the things that are customary and commonplace. It has been a very steep learning curve, but everything that I’ve learned so far has been directly or indirectly relevant to my ongoing interest in the history and culture of physiotherapy.
Those of you who work every day with mental health professionals will know that they approach even the most basic everyday decisions in fundamentally different ways to the ways that are customary in physiotherapy. To give one example, in my department the psychotherapists meet every week for three hours to engage in a group process of decision-making. It is anathema to this group to imagine making an autonomous decision about something that affects the group as a whole.
In my experience, physiotherapists have always seemed to like decisions being made quickly and efficiently, and the idea of spending three hours discussing the process by which a decision is made would seem ludicrous to many of them. And yet, for this group of psychotherapists, it is what they know and a process they have come to respect. And if we were to transplant them into a physiotherapy department, we would almost certainly find the same sense of incredulity that I have sometimes felt over the last 10 weeks.
All of this is important, not least because, in healthcare today, there is a great deal of emphasis placed upon inter-professional collaboration (IPC). But in the way IPC is presented, we all get to retain, perhaps even enhance, our own professional identities. We are rarely asked to wholly embrace another’s personal or professional subjectivity. Taking on this new role, not as a physiotherapist but as academic leader, has enabled me to draw on my experiences of physiotherapy, but it has also required me to understand much more deeply the perspective of people who think very differently to ways that are comfortable and familiar to me.
It occurred to me that taking on roles that required us to understand and embrace the perspectives of colleagues who have different priorities to us would be beneficial for lots of people. And to fight and lobby not from one’s own position, but from the position of the ‘other’, is something we ought to be good at as physiotherapists – given that we advocate for our clients/patients each and every day.
For me, it has felt at times as if I am learning an entirely new language, and although it has sometimes been destabilising and unsettling, it has also been enlightening and invigorating.
These experiences have given me infinitely more pause to reflect on my own professional ideologies than if I had remained within the comfortable confines of the physiotherapy profession itself. I would encourage everyone else who has the opportunity to do the same, given half the chance.