What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy, or physical therapy, is probably the truest form of ministering, one person to another and the closest thing in modern Medicine to ‘the laying on of hands’. By definition, it is the using of human physical touch to render both prevention and cure to a patient. As I see it, the primary essence of Physiotherapy is the careful and respectful physical handling of another’s ailing body in an attempt to do good. You might think this a tall order, and I'd have to agree – even more so in these modern times where machines and gadgetry and 'stuff' reign supreme.  

The hands have it!

The critical essence in the role of Physiotherapy is the hand-to-body contact or touch; the license to unselfconsciously reach out to another human and take their troubled body in hand

On the face of it, touch is a very direct and personal thing, yet central to the role of Physiotherapy. I’ve always been aware of the unique privilege of it and, to me, the precious clinical intimacy of it is what Physiotherapy treatment is all about. The proclivity, both physically and mentally, to put one’s self forward to make a difference, simply by the use of one's own hands. Wow! That’s quite something.

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what is the healing power of touch?

And yet, as one who’s been in the field a long time and more latterly teaching (see Masterclasses on sarahkey.com) I feel I frequently need to reaffirm the potency of human hand-to-flesh contact, to both experienced physiotherapists and new graduates. Because I sense they themselves fail to notice the effect of their own touch, with scant acknowledgement of its value. This is all the more significant when patients remark - almost the instant they're touched - that they know immediately whether a therapist has got what it takes, or not. 

There’s a certain knowingness from experienced human hands that comes closest to the healing power of touch that I don’t think we should slink away from. There's an enormous – hmmmnn, I suppose the word is power (though I feel myself shrink from using it) in human touch. Effective physiotherapy treatment is delivered from this power. 

Something happens when you touch a patient's pain that works on many levels. Firstly it's a mental relief, not least because he or she can stop struggling, looking, and endlessly searching for the the touch that will be the cure. Touching the pain allows patients to whisper thank heavens; they can let go and go with it. They can feel a sense of hope and a confidence in the future; a sense that one day, perhaps not too far off, they'll feel strong and whole again. A return to their true and proper selves.

what is the healing power of a healer . . . 

I believe there's another quality sensed by the patient at a very primitive level: a certain 'healing presence' in a therapist that goes with a centred sort of inner calm and stillness.

Other people can have this indefinable essence too - masseuses, Bowen, Reiki and Alexander practitioners, even faith healers - and all physiotherapists need to to be reminded of this fact.

I’m intensely interested in Physiotherapy working from a strong evidence base, underpinning all that we do with proper science. But I also know, because I’m an old dog in the business, that other less definable factors also play a role in healing. You need to reverent to the magic stuff too. 

I believe that beyond and deeper to our scientific Physiotherapy we can find these other qualities within ourselves if we open our hearts (and more critically, our minds!). Then perchance, we may find ourselves more than a mere technician, more than a mere therapist; we may find ourselves approaching the realms of modern-day healer. 

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"Dear Sarah.  Love the article.  And so true.  I knew the minute I walked in the room with you that you had the healing presence, let alone when you laid hands and feet on me.  Thank Heavens for you!"  Ann, Bowral, 2013