Physical Therapist Qualities


Since its inception in 1894, physiotherapy practice has been governed by a set of legal, regulatory and ethical frameworks and these are explored here. As described earlier, physiotherapists, as part of a profession, have certain rights or privileges together with a responsibility to themselves, the patient, the profession and the organization within which they undertake their professional role. These responsibilities sit within legal, organizational and regulatory frameworks

Physical Therapist Qualities

Characteristics of a profession

There are various theories on how to describe a profession in the literature. One way reflects work undertaken during the 1950s and 1960s which explored professions by identifying common traits and considering the qualities that distinguished a profession from an occupational group (Koehn 1994; Richardson 1999). A profession is described as:

• licensed by the state;

• a professional organisation which has developed and maintains a code of conduct or standards of practice based on acknowledged ethical principles;

• able to discipline members who contravene the code/standards;

• having exclusive knowledge and a technical base which is protected by the law;

• autonomous in its members’ work;

• having members undertaking professional activity which requires them to have responsibilities or duties to those who need assistance;

• having responsibilities which are not incumbent on others. By creating evidence of these traits, professions have been able to justify their ability to exercise power within society. Professionalism defines what is expected of a professional. Becoming an autonomous professional requires an acceptance, often implied, of certain responsibilities, in return for certain privileges. These responsibilities require behaviours and attitudes of individuals in whom professional trust is placed. Professionalism is widely understood to require these attributes (Medical Professionalism Project 2005 (cited in CSP 2005b); CSP 2011a):

• a motivation to deliver a service to others;

• adherence to a moral and ethical code of practice;

• striving for excellence;

• maintaining an awareness of limitations and scope of practice, and a commitment to empowering others (rather than seeking to protect professional knowledge and skills). However, defining and providing evidence of professionalism is often more complex. A recent research report by the HCPC (2011) considered the concept of professionalism as many fitness to practise cases referred to regulators include professionalism. The report summarised that:

… professionalism has a basis in individual characteristics and values, but is also largely defined by context. Its definition varies with a number of factors, including organizational support, the workplace, the expectations of others, and the specifics of each service user/patient encounter. Regulations provide basic guidance and signposting on what is appropriate and what is unacceptable, but act as a baseline for behaviour, more than a specification… A profession that fulfils these expectations establishes and maintains credibility with the public and demonstrates its capacity to carry the privileges of professional practice – autonomy and self-regulation. In turn, fulfilment of these expectations demonstrates a profession’s ability to fulfil the parallel responsibilities of professional practice – accountability, transparency and openness. A key element of physiotherapy students’ preparation for practice on qualification is their being supported in developing their understanding of, and engagement with, the responsibilities and privileges that professionalism encapsulates. The concept of professionalism also relates strongly to the role of physiotherapy support workers. Possessing knowledge and skills not shared by others Any profession possesses a range of specific knowledge and skills that are either unique or more significantly developed than in other professions. For physiotherapy, the roots of the profession can be found in massage. Physiotherapists continue to use massage therapeutically, as well as employing a wide range of other manual techniques, such as manipulation and reflex therapy. Therapeutic handling underpins many aspects of rehabilitation, requiring the touching of patients to facilitate movement, and the significance of therapeutic touching of patients still sets physiotherapy aside from other professions.

Physical Therapist Qualities

The World Congress for Physical Therapy (WCPT) states that:

Physical therapy provides services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing services in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by ageing, injury, diseases, disorders, conditions or environmental factors. Functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy… (WCPT 2011)

Cott et al. (1995) proposed an overarching framework

for the profession:

 the movement continuum theory of physical therapy, arguing that the way in which physiotherapists conceptualise movement is what differentiates the profession from others. They suggest that physiotherapists conceive movement on a continuum from a micro- (molecular, cellular) to a macro- (the person in their environment or in society) level. The authors argue that the theory is a unique approach to movement rehabilitation because it incorporates knowledge of pathology with a holistic view of movement, which includes the influence of physical, social and psychological factors into an assessment of a person’s maximum achievable movement potential. They argue that the role of physiotherapy is to minimise the difference between a person’s current movement capability and his/her preferred movement capability.

In the UK, one approach to conceptualising physiotherapy is to consider physiotherapy, as defined by the Royal Charter, as the four pillars of practice of:

• massage;

• exercise and movement;

• electrotherapy;

• kindred methods of treatment

A recent definition of the Physiotherapy Framework

states that:

Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that works with people to identify and maximize their ability to move and function. Functional movement is a key part of what it means to be healthy. This means that physiotherapy plays a key role in enabling people to improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life.

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