Physiotherapists as detectives: investigating clues and plots in the clinical encounter

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Abstract

This article investigates the clinical reasoning process of physiotherapists working with patients with chronic muscle pain. The article demonstrates how physiotherapists work with clues and weigh up different plots as they seek to build consistent stories about their patient’s illness. The material consists of interviews with 10 Norwegian physiotherapists performed after the first clinical encounter with a patient. Using a narrative approach and Lonergan’s theory of interpretation, the study highlights how, like detectives, the therapists work with clues by asking a number of interpretive questions of their data. They interrogate what they have observed and heard during the first session, they also question how the patient’s story was told, including the contextual and relation aspects of clue production, and they ask why the patient’s story was told to them in this particular way at this particular time. The article shows how the therapists configure clues into various plots on the basis of their experience of working with similar cases and how their detective work is pushed forward by uncertainty and persistent questioning of the data.

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