For the last two years I’ve been the academic leader of a team of psychologists and psychotherapists. Part of my reason for taking the role was to move away from physiotherapy for a while, and one of the things I’ve learnt is how much of what the ‘pay’ disciplines do should be a standard part of the physiotherapy curriculum and scope of practice. How on earth physiotherapists managed to survive for 100 years without exploring transference and counter-transference is beyond me.
But one of the things that characterises many of the psy approaches to health and wellbeing is that they will look to the psyche and the mind for the answers to people’s despair, anger and confusion.
Today I was talking with a physio colleague about some of the frustrations and annoyances that arise when people refuse standard care. Some of her responses were quite visceral, so much so that I suggested that it might be something to take to professional supervision. But then it occurred to me that this is only one way to deal with work frustrations, and sociology might provide another, possibly more useful path.
Some have argued for a long time that philosophy can be a source of comfort in times of anguish and disappointment (see De Botton 2001, for example), but rarely is sociology thought of as therapy in itself. And yet, one of the things I have learnt through my long history with sociology is how useful it can be in providing you with tools to help you analyse why the world around you is the way it is.
By moving beyond one’s visceral reactions to events, applying sociological techniques and theories to problems, new ways of thinking can emerge; new possibilities present themselves; new opportunities arise. This, in itself, restores a sense of hope that tomorrow might be better than today.
It can genuinely help to understand some of the structural reasons why things are the way they are. It can be a real comfort to know that the patterns and practices that are so frustrating today have a basis that extends throughout many other fields of social life. And it can be immeasurably useful to see how some people have responded to these analyses in positive and constructive ways.
Sociology can provide you tools to diagnose problems in the world around you, it can help you locate the source of the itch more accurately, and provide ideas to help you turn things around. In many ways, it’s a lot like physiotherapy.
So the next time you’re confronted with a seemingly intractable clinical or professional problem, talk to a sociologist. Or even better, do some of your own sociological inquiry. It may just make your day.
De Botton, A (2001). The consolations of philosophy. London: Vintage.