How to Understand the Body with the Body. Phenomenological Contribution to Overcoming the Limits of Mechanistic Paradigm in Physiotherapy

Petr Kříž, Jan Halák



This article aims to explain how Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological account of embodiment contributes to the theory and practice of physiotherapy. The mechanistic conception of the body, to which physiotherapy usually refers, assumes a universal model of its functioning and interprets its relationship to the environment causally. In fact, however, it does not allow a satisfactory explanation of the efficiency of the therapeutic methods used in practice. In contrast, Merleau-Ponty’s concept of motor intentionality points to the fact that the body “understands” the practical meaning of a situation. Bodily understanding is then manifested in particular by the ability to adequately differentiate, adapt or vary motor and postural responses to environmental challenges. This change in the conception of embodiment also has important implications for understanding the therapist-patient relationship and the intervention itself. Physiotherapists should draw more on the fact that they are themselves a body and, on this basis, guide the patient’s bodily intentionality towards a more developed understanding of the practical meaning of situations.


physiotherapy; phenomenology; Merleau-Ponty; motor intentionality; bodily empathy

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