Saying the unsayable and thinking the unthinkable - a critical look forward with Prof. David Nicholls

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Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Podcast.

Today I’m speaking with Professor David Nicholls. David is a Professor in the School of Clinical Sciences at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a physiotherapist, lecturer, researcher and writer, with a passion for critical thinking in and around the physical therapies.

David is the founder of the Critical Physiotherapy Network, an organisation that promotes the use of cultural studies, education, history, philosophy, sociology, and a range of other disciplines in the study of the profession’s past, present and future.

His research work focuses on the critical history of physiotherapy and considers how physiotherapy might need to adapt to the changing economy of health care in the 21st century.

He has published more than 35 peer-reviewed articles and 17 book chapters, many as first author. He is also very active on social media, writing more than 650 blogposts for in the last five years.

In 2017 he published the book ‘The End of Physiotherapy’ which is a critical history of physiotherapy, and is working on follow-up book called ‘Physiotherapy Othererwise’. He’s also just co-edited a book called ‘Mobilizing Knowledge in Physiotherapy: Critical Reflections on Foundations and Practices’.

His work on the professionalisation and socialisation of physiotherapy and crucially questioning where it’s come from and where It may be going (if going anywhere at all) resonates with my thinking about osteopathy and the social and historical circumstances which shaped its development and maintains its current practice.

In this episode we talk about:

  • The role of qualitative research in helping to carve a new way of being as professionals and the revised values, identities and practices associated with this shift (including this paper by Elizabeth Adams St. Pierre on a 'post qualitative research' future).
  • Building healthcare practice from the ground up with a new set of foundations and principles
  • The tension which often finds its way into curricular when biomedical subjects sit alongside subjects social, psychological and humanistic topics.
  • The person/body-as-machine and how this contrasts with a phenomenological view of the person of which he argues for.
  • How critical theory has shaped much of his analysis and arguments of physiotherapy, such as the Impact of power on cultures, ideological-orientated enquiry (such as quantitative research), and the historical contexts within which actions takes place.
  • The ‘physiotherapy paradox’
  • The original questions asked by society and answered by physiotherapy and osteopathy, which catalysed the emergence and development of the respective professions.
  • The social, political and economic structure which led to the development and subsequent maintenance of these professions.
  • We then pose that if the original questions and needs of society have change then so should the shape, scope and purpose of professions.
  • The post-professional era, which we may all be on the cusp of.

So this was a complete delight taking to David. His analysis of physiotherapy is forensic, yet the entire time he never once forgets the patient, and the front and centre role they deserve to play in both healthcare practice and purpose.

As you’ll notice when listening we wander (wade) thorough a range of related topics for over 90 minutes, and if wasn’t for the 11 hour time difference - with him needing to commence his day, and me needing to end it, we would have gone on.

Find Dave on Twitter @CriticalPhysio and @DaveNicholls3

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