I teach on a postgraduate paper that gets students from all sorts of health disciplines to think about themselves as health professionals, their professions, and the ‘others’ that they work with.
We use a lot of activities to get the students to reflect on their practice and some of these activities can be really challenging.
Students do photo essays, write letters of appreciation, design practice models, and explore critical incidents, but perhaps the most interesting activity involves them taking something every day and obvious and making it strange.
We ask the students to identify something about their practice that might otherwise be taken-for-granted, and get them to tell us why it matters to them or their clients/patients.
One of our recent students was a Brazilian physiotherapist who worked with women with pelvic floor pain, and the object she talked about was her clinic door.
Now a clinic door is quite an unremarkable thing. But when you are patient presenting with a problem that is very personal or intimate, a door is a vital divide between the safe space of the clinic and the outside world.
As a male physiotherapist, I’ve always been taught to be careful about doors that obscure what goes on in the clinical space, but the reality of our work is often that it involves quite intimate forms of touch or treatment that demand privacy.
Focusing on the clinic door might seem like a flippant exercise to ask students to go through, especially given the myriad challenges we now face in practice. But it is powerful because it serves as a metaphor for security, autonomy, privacy, and trust.
Physical geographers have become increasingly interested in therapeutic spaces in recent years, as people have come to consider the kind of environments that we create for our clients/patients, as much as the procedures we undertake in those spaces.
As healthcare systems change, one of the places where most change will happen will be in the kinds of therapeutic spaces we can secure as professionals and the degree to which we have control over the design and use of those spaces.
It would be interesting to see more therapists consider their own therapeutic spaces and the ways in which they are both subject to, and engineers of, the environments in which they do their work.