In Nikolas Rose’s superb analysis of the history of the ‘psy’ disciplines (psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry), he identifies something about psychology that the ‘phy’ professions (physiotherapy, physical therapy) ought to look very closely at.
Rose asks why it is that psychological thinking is all pervasive these days. Psychological ideas have slipped into everyday language and ways of thinking, everyday experiences of tension and sadness have been given psychological names and diagnostic criteria, and there are now whole bookshelves full of self-help guides to managing every aspect of your psychic life.
Rose asks how this happened;
‘Psychological expertise now holds out the promise not of curing pathology but of reshaping subjectivity. On every subjet from sexual satisfaction to career promotion, psychologists offer their advice and assistance both privately and through the press, radion, and television. The apostles of these techniques proffer images of what we could become, and we are urged to seek them out, to help fulfil the dream of realigning what we are with what we want to be. Our selves are defined and constructed and governeed in psychological terms, constantly subject to psychologically inspired techniques of self-inspection and self-examination. And the problems of defining and living a good life have been transposed from an ethical to a psychological register’ (Rose 1999, xxxi, emphasis added).
Here is a list of the topics covered by the latest student edition of Adjust – a self-study guide for current psychological topics and interests:
- Adjusting to Modern Life
- Theories of Personality
- Stress and Its Effects
- Coping Processes
- Psychology and Physical Health
- The Self
- Social Thinking and Social Influence
- Interpersonal Communication
- Friendship and Love
- Marriage and Intimate Relationships
- Gender and Behavior
- Development and Expression of Sexuality
- Careers and Work
- Psychological Disorders
There isn’t much here about modern life that isn’t covered by the pages of this guide, which basically suggests that if you are equipped with psychologically-informed ways of thinking, there isn’t much that you can’t find interest and relevance in.
Of course, what psychologists can’t do is bring a set of physical ideas to life’s rich pageant. And very few others can. For a long time, practitioners in the alternative and complementary therapies have tried to fill the void, but they lack the same public trust and social capital as physiotherapists. But physiotherapists have been remarkably reluctant thus far to venture beyond their traditional territory and become the physical equivalents of the all-pervasive ‘psy’ disciplines.
So why is it that physiotherapists accepted such a restrictive view of bodies, function and movement all those years ago? And why, given that so much has changed in the world, are they still holding on to it?
The rise of psychology in the 20th century provides one very useful template for the ways in which physiotherapists might define a future for their practice that reaches beyond the body-as-machine and into the lives of everyone, all the time.
Rose, N. (1999). Governing the soul: The shaping of the private self. London, Free Association Books.
Weiten, W., Hammer, E. & Dunn, D. (2014). Adjust: Applying psychology to life. Belmont, CA, Cengage.