What it means to be a Manual Therapist
What I have noticed in nearly 10 years of practice, in various settings and different states, is that many Physical Therapists who treat patients with their hands often advertise that they are Manual Therapists. While some claim to be self taught, others may say that they have read the book of a famous Manual Therapist, or learned techniques from a senior PT.
This post is not intended to take away from the profession by lessening the treatment effects of these Physical Therapists, as many of them are able to effectively treat your pain. Rather this post is intended to inform the public of the sacrifice & pride that accompanies the journey of recognition.
A certified Manual Therapist will never claim to be something in which they are not. We are not Chiropractors, we are not Accupuncturists, we are not Massage Therapists, and we are not Athletic Trainers. In some cases we may use very similar techniques, and each aforementioned profession is very unique and excellent in what they do. We are, however, a very different breed of conservative pain management specialists, who struggle for our public identity. Unless you have been treated by a Manual Therapist, many people & professions simply do not know we do and what injuries we are capable of treating, but the public deserves to know more.
While patients may say that Manual Therapists ask way too many questions, this is actually our greatest asset and what separates us from other specialists. A certified Manual Therapist does not just possess fancy techniques to treat your pain, we provide our patients with the "Why" as well. In the world of Physical Therapy we call this Clinical Reasoning. The reasons why we select each treatment, and why they work to treat your pain, is what makes us different.
There are many effective schools of Manual Therapy, that's why here at NYMT we welcome all of those who have graduated from formal Manual Therapy training with at least 5 years of experience. We take pride in knowing that each Manual Therapist possess a system to evaluate, educate and treat their patients at a highest level of conservative care to help you heal faster and return to a more active lifestyle. Each Manual Therapists training, lifestyle, and demeanor, may make their treatments unique as compared to the next, however we all share the same philosophy; Reproduce and treat our patients' pain, get them stronger, and get them back to their lifestyle.
I felt obligated, but also a sense of pride to post about some of my training, particularly my UIC Fellowship cohort. (Photo at the bottom of post). Fellowship training in Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy is considered to be the pinnacle of clinical training for Manual Therapists (about 1% of the profession has completed this level of training). While each Fellowship is very different in how they teach, I feel both lucky and blessed to have work along side so many brilliant Manual Therapy mentors and to study under Dr. Carol Courtney. Dr. Courtney was the first teacher to introduce to me the concept of Clinical Reasoning. She challenged our class everyday with the "why." Why did we select our treatments, and why did they fail or succeed. I feel its important to share with everyone that behind every great Manual Therapist is a great mentor.
I will try to do my time at UIC justice, but bear with me as I am not the best writer (matter of fact, writing is my Achilles heel, so keep the criticism fresh, trust me I can take it haha). The sacrifice of moving to Chicago after doing traveling PT for a few years came with a lot of uncertainty. I would have to work longer hours, get paid a whole lot less, teach on my own time, endure more debt, and spend countless days practicing. Sounds crazy but for me this is just what my practice was missing. I have always been that passionate Manual Therapist that my patients would love to be around, laugh with, and confide in, but what I was missing was understanding if my treatments were actually effective or did my patients just simply want to please me.
So, while in Nebraska I received my acceptance letter and jumped on this opportunity. The chance to be mentored by a new published and esteemed Manual Therapist each month was an opportunity I simply could not pass on. Our entire class caught a glimpse of Carol's brilliance when we discovered that each of us were hand picked with different previous Manual Therapy training. Despite our different backgrounds and beliefs we ended up as life long friends that to date would still keep in touch. (Quick shout out to my best friend Josh, owner of ChicagoManualTherapy, he is the goofball in the middle of the photo. He has been a huge inspiration for me to build NYMT and promote our profession to be understood for more than what is currently assumed)
(Photo Break Down) Starting from the Left, I was picked knowing I had a Stanley Paris training background. Next to me from the left was Justin Lantz who came with a Maitland background. In the middle was Josh McFarren who trained with an Ola Grimsby background. In the middle was Tim Nolan who was our cohorts prodigy (young, smart, inquisitive, and well written). To the top right was Steve Goosetree (aka Goose) who came with both James Dunning and Mckenzie training. The ladies from the left to right were Carla Frank who was Board Certified in Orthopedics, and on the right was Christine Shaurate (Aka Kiwi) who completed her diploma of Manipulation Therapy from New Zealand. So, as many of you can imagine, our round table debates were full of passion and fireworks, and the late pub debates were even more interesting. From Josh's cross eyed porter induced clinical reasoning, to Carla's pickled back passion for teaching, to Goose's carefree iceman persona, I'll never forget what each of them was able to teach me.
It took a different personality and a humble approach to put aside previous beliefs and learn a new system, Carol's system. And when Fellowship was complete, we were all still somewhat confused, as none of us had all the answers, rather we ended this journey asking different questions (which in the end, was what we all needed). There is an old Buddhist saying that "in order for light to shine through, the wall must show some cracks", and that is exactly what had happened. Our previous beliefs were challenged and in the end, despite our different training, we all possessed the same skills to clinically reason out our "why"and deliver more effective patient care. Our backgrounds may still influence what techniques we use, but the "why" remains universal for all of us.
It comes as no surprise that many Manual Therapists have practiced some form of Martial Arts. The dedication to our craft, poise under pressure, attention to detail, and respect for elders, very much parallels the teachings of many schools of Martial Arts.
I still reflect on this year as the most challenging year of my career packed with wisdom that continues to provide me with daily "ah ha" moments, keeping me humble through this journey. I hope that each Manual Therapist pursues this level of training. I look forward to seeing many of you at our annual conference and creating new bonds in what some would call a fraternity of passionate Manual Therapists, determined to make a difference with each of our patients.
Dedicated to Carol Courtney, her new and improved Fellowship, and to all the inspiring Manual Therapists worldwide, keep chasing your ambitions and enjoy the ride!