communication

Exploring “Physiotherapy”

The social identity of our profession is vital, both in respect to how we see ourselves, and also how the public views us.  It sets the expectations of us as a profession and also the sociocultural context of our patient’s expectations of the profession.  Our social identity can drive our own personal and professional strategies that may lead to challenging tensions that exist between how the public may judge us and how we evaluate ourselves and our colleagues, from within and between the healthcare professions.

From the viewpoint of the public, they may assume that our role is to massage sore limbs, prescribe exercises, hand out walking aids, run out on sports fields, and prescribe medications, list for surgery or just helping people recover with advice and guidance.  In whatever way they may perceive us, there will be numerous accurate or inaccurate views.

This short blog looks to consider the word Physiotherapy and its two elements – Physio (nature, natural or physical) and therapy (treatment, counselling, healing).  A real life viewpoint of a patient of Neil’s has made him consider the therapeutic element within the patient narrative. All clinicians are blessed to be invited into a patient’s story, and in so many cases, this can be a very humbling experience. This story was one of those, and it led us to reconsider the name of the profession – Physiotherapy.

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When we describe ourselves as a “Physio” it seems fairly clear to us and it sets an expectation of physicality translating to recovery. We may not describe ourselves so easily as a “therapist” because there are a range of therapists in healthcare and this therefore fails to distinctly identify ourselves, however being “therapeutic” and offering “therapy” is an integral part of person-centred care.  I am sure that there are many of us who have experienced the confusion in how the word ‘physio’ is used as a treatment as opposed to a professional title!

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So, what is the “therapy” we offer? Exercise on its own has physiological benefits; helping people move helps numerous biological, psychological and social system changes.  In the realm of human biology for example, movement behaviour changes, observations can be made with respect to the tone of muscles, the strength of a contraction, the biochemistry within the soft-tissues, or due to alterations of the nervous system, things change. How that change is experienced, perceived, acknowledged and understood contextualises those physiological reactions within the emotional context of the individual, and this is where the “therapy” may happen in the cases that we see. The biopsychosocial model has been unintentionally interpreted as three distinct components and there may be the tendency to treat through the bio lens, an example being how exercise may strengthen the individual to improve their physical capacity and potentially ignoring other psychological and social contexts.  However, there is the recognition that a key component to integrated the biopsychosocial approach is through the provision of a cognitively informed practice to enhance recovery.  Although our language, through its inherent limitations, has to separate this complex and dynamic systems approach, it is very difficult to come to terms with the understanding that these systems cannot really be separated and treated as such, as they are inextricably intertwined.

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As we will all appreciate, every interaction, intervention and communication will, in some way, have an emotional effect on that individual, we are human and fundamentally social beings.  And so, that interaction whether it is the prescription of an exercise designed to help improve the capacity of a tendon for example, using the most up to date isometric technique may be shown to change a range of difficult to pronounce chemicals, or giving advice to move and stay active, or perhaps using hands to help someone, or whatever, the “therapy” is the emotional interaction and understanding that enhances the observable physical changes.  The ‘objective’ changes without the emotional context, become just observations without the translation of a positive lived experience.

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So, as someone who trained many years ago and initially believed the physical treatments produced the physical responses, it is always a humbling experience to put the pen down, sit back, and listen to the story. To hear how the agency of a person is lost and to really appreciate the emotional cost associated with that.  Hearing the impact of how “physical” treatments have failed and in order to make sense of the situation is truly bi-directional within an intersubjective space.  The way in which progress can be made and enhance the biology of recovery in instances such as these, was to offer the “therapy” within the patient story and not from an externally situated and objective physical sense (Physio).

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We would like to thank Neil’s patient for kindly sending this, allowing us to publish it, and being so open in their discussion.

Matthew Low and Neil Langridge

“Hi Neil,

As we discussed, here is the story of my back problems, I hope it isn’t too long winded, but once I got started it was quite therapeutic!

I’m 53 years old and can’t remember a time when I haven’t had to careful with my back. Almost any little thing could trigger painful spasms and more prolonged periods of stiffness and pain. Besides that I kept myself reasonably fit walking my dogs, horse riding when I was able and had a pretty normal life. Just before Christmas 2001 I think, I bent to get something from the oven and “wow” the pain was so bad I couldn’t move, general opinion that followed was a disc issue which took about 6 weeks to improve. After that it made me even more conscious and nervous about everyday movements and actions. New Years Eve several years later and I got a virus which led to Sarcoidosis my particular symptoms being respiratory, bronchitis and constant coughing and vomiting through that. Needless to say I hurt my back badly with that, and after the operation to remove a lump from my lung I had awful pain, not from the operation site but of course from lower back.

Very soon after returning to work in a job I loved and had been in for years the company folded, I was redundant and not exactly a fit candidate for anything! Shortly after that my dog had a bad accident which then meant 6 months of treatments and care at home and vet visits every week. At this point my husband of 20 years decided that a friend of ours would be a much better option for a fun life than that with a sickly woman and her crippled dog. Enter depression , stress and more back pain, and add financial worries into that too, I was in a bad way. So that was my life for the next 10 years, ups and downs, living in total fear of my back going completely and then being rejected by those around me in my work, new relationship, and family. The whole time I tried to hide my feelings as to how bad I really felt, how often is it said those with depression outwardly laugh and joke so you would never know?

 I think probably the worst part was when both my parents died within months of each other, my Dad on Christmas Day 2012, and my Mum Good Friday 2013. Things had been very difficult with them for a few years as my Mum had dementia and I felt so guilty that my back pain prevented me from doing more for them. The day after my Mothers funeral my back was so tight and sore I went for a long walk and tried to forget things and have a good day, but that evening going upstairs something “went” over my right hip and into my lower back, and that was that, pretty much permanent pain that ruled my life.

So then you try everything don’t you? Regular medications didn’t work or made me ill, physiotherapy made it worse! Chiropractic worked to some degree but then ended up making it worse and being treated for free, I had acupuncture with some success, then again it got worse, hydrotherapy which was good but was not affordable after the NHS treatment. Just after my parents deaths I even went to a faith healer who laid hands on my back whilst a white dove of peace, ironically a right vicious individual, flew about crapping on everything, particularly a 7ft black statue with a massive afro and colourful robes. I guess he had some significance, but it was lost on me, no results! The only thing I found helpful was a tens machine which blocked the pain messages from the brain, I also found distraction such as a good play on the radio at work, or a night out with friends would give me something else to think about and the pain eased. Generally though I lived my life in fear and pain, anxious about anything and everything and even about what may happen, I was totally negative and an absolute pain to be around. Thank goodness my GP recommended me to someone who understood what was happening, and you turned everything I’d been told and believed upside down.

You diagnosed PTS going back years, then think phantom limb syndrome whereby my brain was now hardwired to send pain signals when there wasn’t any pain! Sure I still have irritation to my nerve endings which give me grief from time to time, but I am learning to deal with these set backs, not an easy thing to do. I needed to de stress, I took a month off work, anti depressants, and learnt to relax and stop running about. During those 4 weeks I had one day of pain! Taking myself out of the situation broke the cycle of pain = stress = pain. I took up gentle yoga, having never attended an exercise class in my life I was scared to death I wouldn’t even be able to get on the floor. I needn’t of worried everyone had some problem or another and we help and encourage each other. I’ve found it a very positive thing to do as after not moving for so long I found after a week or 2 I was improving and doing more than I ever thought I could.

I know it can be really difficult to realize that actually the very real pain you are feeling is in fact manufactured by your mind, and to many people it just doesn’t make sense, it takes a while to get your head round, but once I did I haven’t looked back and have apparently achieved such a lot in the couple of months I have tried to turn things round. I am naturally a pessimistic and negative person, but I really do believe now that if you can open your mind to the possibility that you have it in yourself to change then anything is possible, and the sense of achievement you get from doing the very things that challenge you is a great feeling!”

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Managing Complexity In Musculoskeletal Conditions: Reflections From A Physiotherapist

I was fortunate enough to have been invited by Physio First to contribute to their journal ‘In Touch’ and I chose to write about managing complexity with the different types of ‘evidence’ that we deal with in a healthcare setting.

This is an area of interest for me and I still grapple with many areas of clinical practice.  These include balancing the normative and narrative examination, evaluating and weighting the evidence appropriately for the person seeking care in front of me and also reconciling and communicating the reasoning process within a person centred framework.  Clearly, this is work in progress and I hope this reflective piece demonstrates a movement in this direction.

I hope this paper is informative and useful in that it shares some of my deliberations, thoughts and perspectives in clinical care.

Many thanks to Physio First http://www.physiofirst.org.uk/ for giving me the opportunity to share this.

Managing complexity in MSK conditions In Touch Article

Fusion of perspectives

Please feel free to make comments and feedback your thoughts and views below.

 

 

What can Plato’s Allegory of the Cave tell us about knowledge translation?

The allegory of the cave is a famous passage in the history of philosophy. It is a short excerpt from the beginning of Plato’s book, The Republic (1). There are a number of different interpretations of the allegory, but the one that I would like to present is within the context of education, specifically knowledge translation and the content, style and manner of its delivery. I would like to conclude with relating this to how we, as health care professionals, present knowledge within a professional dialogue.

Plato’s Cave

Imagine a group of prisoners who have been chained since they were children in an underground cave. Their hands, feet, and necks are chained so that they are unable to move. All they can see in front of them, for their entire lives, is the back wall of the cave.

Plato's Cave

Some way off, behind and higher up, a fire is burning, and between the fire and the prisoners above them runs a road, in front of which a curtain wall has been built, like a screen at puppet shows between the operators and their audience, above which they show their puppets”(1)

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So, there are people who are passing by the walkway, carrying objects made of stone, behind a curtain-wall, and they make sounds to go along with the objects. These objects are projected onto the back wall of the cave for the prisoners to see. The prisoners talk and discuss these projections and come up with names for them; they are interpreting the view of the world, as it is intelligible to them. It is almost as though the prisoners are watching a puppet show for their entire lives. This is what the prisoners think is real because this is all they have ever experienced; reality for them is an interpretive existence viewing the world as a type of puppet show on the wall of a cave, created by shadows of objects and figures. In a way, this is not dissimilar to our understanding of evidence-based practice, we have a version of truth interpreted through the views of others and we, as clinicians, have to make sense of it and also interpret it ourselves, for others.

Research evidence is still testimony of evidence in that we must trust the rigor, process and presentation of it. We may not have completed and interpreted the research ourselves and therefore careful scrutiny through peer review and individual critical analysis is of utmost importance. The prisoners also co-construct the world between them, sharing a dialogue surrounding the images cast in front of them. As physiotherapists, we also share dialogue surrounding professional practice, or own values and preferences as well as what we think “works” for patients from many different perspectives. Back to the story:

One of the prisoners has help and breaks free from his chains. Then he is forced to turn around and look at the fire. The light of the fire hurts his eyes and makes him immediately want to turn back around and

“retreat to the things which he could see properly, which he would think really clearer than the things being shown him.”(2)

In other words, the prisoner initially finds the light (representing the truth, an alternative truth or reality) very challenging to see and so does not want to pursue it. It would be easier to look away back into the shadows.

However, after his eyes adjust to the firelight, reluctantly and with great difficulty he is forced to progress out of the cave and into the sunlight, which is a painful process. This represents a journey of greater understanding and the challenges that come with it. We have all found the journey of gaining knowledge, interpreting it and applying it a challenge in one way or another in our personal and professional lives. The story continues:

So the prisoner progressed past the realm of the firelight, and now into the realm of sunlight. The first thing he would find easiest to look at is the shadows, and then reflections of men and objects in the water, and then finally the prisoner is able to look at the sun itself which he realises is the source of the reflections. For me, this represents the way in which knowledge can be delivered may be best understood within the context of previous experience including socially acceptable constructs. This allows connections to be made between our prior views of the world and the formation of new information or knowledge that we have perceived and interpreted. When these connections relate to prior experience or conceptualised within familiar paradigms, they become easier to digest, absorb and interpret successfully. Simply being told new information in an abstract way or delivered in a style and manner that is out of keeping of social norms may not be a successful strategy.

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Copied from @michael_rowe twitter feed 28th March 2018

Back to the escapee: When the prisoner finally looks at the sun he sees the world and everything surrounding him and begins to feel sorry for his fellow prisoner’s who are still stuck in the cave. So, he goes back into the cave and tries to tell his fellow prisoners the truth outside. But the prisoners think that he is dangerous because the information that he tells them is so abstract and opposed to what they know. The prisoners choose not to be free because they are comfortable in their own world of ignorance, and they are hostile to people who want to give them an alternative view of the world. My interpretation is that there is a natural tendency to resist certain forms of knowledge, particularly if the subject area has been around for a while. Ignorance is bliss! The prisoner that escaped from the cave questioned all his beliefs as he experienced a change in his view of the world rather than just being told an alternative. Being a passive observer, as the prisoners who wish to stay in the cave, would generally prefer to keep things as they are. This says something to me about the experience of knowledge translation; the impact will depend on a number of variables that effect an individual’s perception.

According to Plato, education is seeing things differently. Therefore, as our conception of truth changes, so will our engagement with education. He believed that we all have the capacity to learn but not everyone has the desire to learn; desire and resistance are important in education because we have to be willing to learn alternative paradigms even though it may be hard to accept at times. Creating the desire to learn through the style and manner of motivational interviewing (3) makes even more sense here, particularly with regards to the ‘righting reflex’. The ‘righting reflex’ is the natural tendency that well-intended people have to fix what seems wrong or incorrect and to set them on to the ‘proper’ course. This often results in telling people what to do in a very directive manner that frequently ends up putting people off or stifling change rather than steering people on an alternative path.

The people who were carrying the objects across the walkway, which projected shadows on the wall, represent the authority of today. Within the physiotherapy profession, they may be our union leaders, educators, researchers, course providers, cultural influencers, social media icons as well as clinical and professional leads; they influence the opinions of people and help determine the beliefs and attitudes of people within our professional society. The person who helped the prisoner out of the cave could be seen as a teacher. Socrates compares his work as a teacher like that of a midwife. A midwife does not give birth for a person, however a midwife has seen a lot of people give birth and coached a lot of people through it, similarly, a teacher does not get an education for the student, but can guide students towards it. Similarly, professional dialogue appears best suited towards guiding people towards alternative “truths” or perspectives. The style and manner of its delivery is clearly important and it appears to have the greatest effect if it is surrounded by within and between each other’s experiences that create connections with other previous understanding. Using a direct style and manner that is out of keeping with professional dialogue is unlikely to facilitate learning or behavioural change, in fact, it is more likely to make people resist it. Much like, if the escaped prisoner returned to the other prisoners brandishing a torch lit by the flame and put it close to them to see an alternative perspective. This would likely cause the imprisoned prisoners flinch and close their eyes from the light, therefore representing stifling learning and behavioural change. An alternative method would be to introduce the light and demonstrate how it changed the shape and position of the shadows while talking them through the process allowing the prisoners to change the perspective through cognitive and perceptive dissonance, therefore representing a challenge in the experience with brand new alternatives presented. Then the attention could be drawn to the firelight and then to the outside and show alternative possibilities.

I hope this blog highlights how we might communicate with each other and helps to reflect on not only what we say, but perhaps more importantly, how we say it! More specifically, the experience of knowledge translation can be transformative if the learner has a direct personal experience. The least effective means of communication of knowledge may be about giving information in a style and manner that is outside of social norms. This is most likely to be polarising, rather than inviting people along with you. A level above this might be information giving that is lacking context or information provided in a style and manner that is hierarchical or top-down. The greatest impact may be that which directly engages with its audience in a way that relates to their previous experiences with the learners making connections themselves during a sense-making process.

References:

  1. Plato: The Republic 514b
  2. Plato: The Republic 515e
  3. Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: helping people change. New York, NY, Guilford Press.

Matthew Low, Consultant Physiotherapist NHS.

 

The Professional Dialogue: A constructive antidote to a combative climate.

 

Guest Post by Dr Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist NHS.

I recently had the privilege of attending and presenting at a conference overseas, meeting numerous Physiotherapists from multinational backgrounds. They were keen to collaborate, learn, develop and discuss. They were fantastic in their ability to listen, debate, and be critical in a professional way that made knowledge translation and critical review a pleasure rather than a trial. On my return it made me consider the UK Physiotherapy professions’ approach to building on knowledge, and how especially through social media we conduct discussions which inherently are on an international stage. It made me really consider how these are subsequently digested and the impressions our words, and approaches to professional development are viewed.

We work in an ever-evolving profession. Whether you are a new graduate or near retirement, the process of change is continuous. Over time this has happened at different speeds and has been influenced by “movements”, beliefs, individuals, social need, politics,… this list can go on. National development of new models of care has led the profession into different ways of working across many disciplines with a view of supporting patients and colleagues to deliver new and better ways of managing numerous and diverse patient populations.

The responsibility of the profession is to be ready to help, support and hold an offer that allows other professions to realise that offer with us and utilise the skill sets we have. In engaging with other professional groups, national bodies and internationally we as a profession have to ensure the offer is credible and we are seen as credible partners. There are many ways to present as credible colleagues, and one way is how we critically evaluate our practice and subsequently translate that into new ways of working. As part of the panel discussing responsibility at the up-coming 3Rs event I felt it pertinent to consider my views on this subject and I thought I would share one element, which is professional communication with anyone that is interested.

What has really alerted me of late around this in trying to gauge a sense of where we are as a profession, and how we possibly are seen externally and internally is the responses within Social Media inclusive of discussions, blogs and statements. I have always been comfortable in countering arguments, putting myself into situations where I am likely to be confronted by strong opinions and beliefs, and therefore I have always supported anyone’s right to offer an opinion and to stand by it if it is not illegal, immoral or unethical.

What I have come to realise is that some professional discussions seem to be led by emotion when it comes to challenging outdated practice or beliefs. These emotions seem to be led at times by anger, antagonism, and the under-mining of others, overall the context is very confrontational. I believe passionately that we have a responsibility to challenge internally and be critical of what we do and this freedom of speech is critical to the change process.

But, how does freedom of speech interlink with professional dialogue? They are not separate, but should be viewed as a contextual choice dependent on the social situation. This should be tacit without the need for explicit rules and as such should be a natural evolutionas a professional in practice. This is a question that seems to come up regularly, and is generally answered with a retorts such as; you choose to take offence and swearing in professional discussions is positive practice. It seems if you are thought of as being “outdated” then that means others have a right to “call people out” and we should all welcome that because that is the right thing to do for our profession. So let’s consider that in the context of a wider world view. Medical colleagues, national bodies, international groups and professional colleagues, all would wish for best practice, critical thinking and the progression of healthcare for patients, and they would wish to discuss this, learn from each other and share knowledge. How do you think they would wish to do that? Are we offering the right environment, the best external view of our profession and the atmosphere that encourages discussion?

Argument NL blog

I believe we need to seriously consider the inter-relationships of professional dialogue and behavior and the rights to expression. Perhaps it is worth reflecting on the virtual professional learning communities you are involved in? One of these is Twitter, and as such it is worth considering what the value of this is to you as a clinician. These types of professional learning communities have been described as;

“A group of people sharing and interrogating their practice in an on-going reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning orientated, growth-promoting way”.

I believe that Social media provides this really well, however are the discussions you see or are involved in “growth-promoting and learning orientated”? What I also believe is that as well as having a professional responsibility to critically drive change from within the profession, we also have a responsibility to not be so aggressive in that mission of practice evaluation that it actually stifles behavioral change and in fact implodes on itself because it is led by emotion rather the cognitive empowerment of the profession.

It is easy to create an emotional response, be angry, confrontational, be threatening; making people think requires more than that; it requires clarity, reasoning, giving individuals the freedom themselves to consider their positioning in a non-threatened way and most importantly, their freedom of professional dialogue. Angry responses limits others and so does not encourage change, in my opinion those that angrily, aggressively sound the horn create an uncompromising environment that can only, ultimately limit some of the change behaviors that those that shout are championing for. It seems to me ironic that some of those pushing for change do so in a manner that actually drives the opposite.

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Through communication we construct our own social realities and these then shape how we communicate, this can make a circle and this can become a vicious circle, bouncing around the same arguments, with the same outcomes and no effective change occurring. So, let’s consider a change?

Tannen (1998) speaks of “argument culture” expressing concern that confrontational communication can be counter-productive and self-perpetuating. It limits deep engagement and “Stimulates ritualised opposition that reinforces antagonism, this preventing the collective exploration of underlying complexities. These exchanges tend to escalate, polarising participants…in other words, the argument cultures impedes dialogic conversations, and creates the perfect stage for the performance of entrenched monologues”. The diagram I have put together below I hope gives my blog some pictorial interpretation. If you were a patient listening to your clinician who were about to assess you discuss their profession, where in the diagram below would you expect/hope those clinicians to sit?

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In the end using direct opposition tactics to achieve change may work for social movements, but in professional practice, identity and development I would propose that confrontational attitudes, attacking approaches and undermining manners only provide opposition and not a vehicle for change. I am an advocate for change, development, critical review and challenge but not at the expense of our professional courtesy. The professional arguments we have need to be built on credible dialogue, a willingness to explore and debate and provide a context that encourages the communication, not suppresses it. With this in mind I believe it is always worth considering the next interaction, the next discussion, the next blog etc and be analytical and critical in a way that encourages professional dialogue and always considers how our external/international colleagues may view the work of the profession, the future may rest on the words we all write, and emotional responses we control.

1 Stoll et al (2006) Professional Learning Communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change. 7 (4) 221-15.

2 Tannen D (1998): The argument culture. Changing the way we argue and debate, London: Virago Press.

3 Kerry R (2017) “Physio will eat itself” https://rogerkerry.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/physio-will-eat-itself/

 Dr Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist NHS.