Dr. Barbara Gibson’s New Book Re-Examines Rehabilitation

Associate Professor Dr. Barbara Gibson was trying to teach her University of Toronto graduate students how to think differently about rehabilitation. She wanted them to explore new ways of viewing disability, therapy goals and individual well-being. However, Dr. Gibson had a problem: there were no rehab-specific textbooks addressing these issues.

So, she wrote one.

Dr. Gibson says the goal of Rehabilitation: A Post Critical Approach is to guide rehabilitation practitioners to re-think many of the principles that currently underlie rehabilitation. For example, she dedicates a chapter to ‘In/Dependence’, providing a new way to view dependencies such as using a mobility device, or requiring help with certain tasks.

Woman in wheelchair is on a beautiful beach, staring off at large rocks

“Dependency isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We should be cautious about seeing dependence as a form of failure, because that message is transferred to our patients.”

“If we have taught a client how to effectively maneuver her power wheelchair, she may be ‘dependent’, but she is still as capable as someone who walks” says Dr. Gibson.  “The key is to view different forms of disability, mobility and independence not as “good” or “bad”, but merely as diverse forms of being and doing.”

Dr. Gibson suggests we need to remove the message of failure that is built-in to how disability is addressed in rehabilitation. In a chapter titled ‘Mobilities’, she explores the experiences of children with Cerebral Palsy. After years of intense rehabilitation therapy to learn how to walk independently, many eventually choose to use a wheelchair, because walking can be painful, tiring, and they would rather spend their time focusing on other endeavours such as schoolwork and socializing with peers, as opposed to time in therapy.

“All of our social messages in society directly imply it is better to walk independently than to use a cane, wheelchair, or even crawl to get around. Philosophically, this is problematic. This book asks: what are our messages, what are our goals, and can we think about these things differently?”-Dr. Gibson

A disabled young boy playing in his assistance walker.

Dr. Gibson isn’t saying we should abandon current rehabilitation strategies. However, we can rethink how we frame disability as tragedy or as a problem to be fixed, viewing it as a form of diversity as opposed to lack. She envisions current strategies embracing a sense of acceptance, honesty and transparency, creating a more genuine and productive relationship between rehabilitation practitioners and their clients.

To learn more about Dr. Gibson’s work, please visit the Critical Disability and Rehabilitation Studies (CDARS) unit.  To learn more about similar work in physiotherapy, please visit the Critical Physiotherapy Network.

Barbara book