Phenomenological physiotherapy: extending the concept of bodily intentionality

Medical Humanities 48 (4):e14 (2022)
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This study clarifies the need for a renewed account of the body in physiotherapy to fill sizable gaps between physiotherapeutical theory and practice. Physiotherapists are trained to approach bodily functioning from an objectivist perspective; however, their therapeutic interactions with patients are not limited to the provision of natural-scientific explanations. Physiotherapists’ practice corresponds well to theorisation of the body as the bearer of original bodily intentionality, as outlined by Merleau-Ponty and elaborated upon by enactivists. We clarify how physiotherapeutical practice corroborates Merleau-Ponty’s critical arguments against objectivist interpretations of the body; particularly, his analyses demonstrate that norms of optimal corporeal functioning are highly individual and variable in time and thus do not directly depend on generic physiological structures. In practice, objectively measurable physical deviations rarely correspond to specific subjective difficulties and, similarly, patients’ reflective insights into their own motor deficiencies do not necessarily produce meaningful motor improvements. Physiotherapeutical procedures can be understood neither as mechanical manipulations of patients’ machine-like bodies by experts nor as a process of such manipulation by way of instructing patients’ explicit conscious awareness. Rather, physiotherapeutical practice and theory can benefit from the philosophical interpretation of motor disorders as modifications of bodily intentionality. Consequently, motor performances addressed in physiotherapy are interpreted as relational features of a living organism coupled with its environment, and motor disorders are approached as failures to optimally manage the motor requirements of a given situation owing to a relative loss of the capacity to structure one’s relation with their environment through motor action. Building on this, we argue that the process of physiotherapy is most effective when understood as a bodily interaction to guide patients towards discovering better ways of grasping a situation as meaningful through bodily postures and movements.

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Author's Profile

Jan Halák
Palacky University

References found in this work

Phenomenology of perception.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1945 - Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: The Humanities Press. Edited by Donald A. Landes.
Phenomenology of Perception.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 1945 - New York: Routledge. Edited by Donald A. Landes.
Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind.Evan Thompson - 2007 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Action in Perception.Alva Noë - 2005 - MIT Press.

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