Hippocrates and Galenus, two Greek physicians, are credited with being the first to use massage and manual therapy– even hydrotherapy techniques in and around 400-500 BC.
Jumping forward a few hundred years, Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare was the first to recognize the value in officially registering Physical Therapists in 1887. This acted as a catalyst, and soon Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States followed suit. Physical Therapy really took stride globally once World War I hit, and the world awoke to a sharp reality when the casualties of war had to be dealt with. Because of these events, Physical Rehabilitation has grown into a host of Allied Health Professions that include Physical and Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists, as well as their assistants. Physical Rehabilitation has grown into a universally accepted and trusted way of treating numerous physiological impairments.
Just how far Rehabilitation Professionals have come can best be witnessed through the changing portrayals of therapists in the few movies that portray this profession.
In the early 1900s, people with disabilities were expected to live as invalids for their whole lives and often sent to live in institutions. Therapists were radical thinkers who challenged these assumptions and expected people to learn to overcome their physical limitations. Unfortunately, their services were mostly only available to the wealthy. The stories of Helen Keller and Franklin D. Roosevelt show these pioneers in action.
As depicted in this scene from the 1962 production of The Miracle Worker,
Anne Sullivan was Helen Keller’s “Miracle Worker.” She wasn’t recognized as an Occupational Therapist or Speech Therapist, merely a “teacher”, “instructor”, or “lifelong companion.” That’s because Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists didn’t exist in 1886, the year Anne Sullivan graduated from Perkins School for the Blind. Helen’s family viewed Annie as irrational and radical. They were openly against trying to help her discipline Helen Keller in any way.
Years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt faced similar problems. On August 25, 1921, he was diagnosed with infantile paralysis, also known as polio. A cure for Polio was unheard of and most people with polio suffered complete or partial paralysis and had a very hard time completing the simplest of tasks. In this compilation of clips, from the 2005 movie, Warm Springs, we can see the future president convince himself and others of value of this outlandish idea that today we call “Physical Therapy. ”
Just how much attitudes have changed in the modern western world can be seen through the smash hit television show of Breaking Bad. In this clip you can see that Physical Therapy is viewed as a priority and of the utmost importance:
Attitudes towards rehabilitation have changed from opposition and scoffing to realizing that Physical Rehabilitation is of vital importance and demanded as a service that is needed by all, whether rich or poor. We hope this little tour renews your appreciation for those who have patiently believed in, fought for and developed this industry.