Beyond the Looking Glass: Learning to See by Threading Health Humanities in the Curriculum


All healthcare professionals, including physical therapists (PTs), encounter human suffering in their everyday practice as healers. Human suffering can raise fundamental questions related to health, wellness, illness, disability, life or death, and grieving. These questions challenge practitioners who have been educated on behavioral objectives based on traditional cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains of learning1 to provide adequate and compassionate care for their patients and families. To make situations more challenging, PTs may encounter ethical dilemmas when dealing with patient-practitioner interactions within the healthcare system.2 Physical therapists need to respond properly to situations involving ethical issues as well as manage the distress characterized by human suffering. Traditional classroom environments where the skills and science of physical therapy are taught often fall short in pedagogy to engage students in the three domains of learning (cognitive, affective, psychomotor) within the clinical context.3 Students may cognitively understand how to physically respond to difficult situations but the deeper connection to the heart of distress and how to respond, often cannot be taught through traditional pedagogical processes. The purpose of this presentation is to explore possibilities for threading health humanities through the curriculum in a DPT or PTA program.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The health humanities (HH) provide tools which help students develop the ability to communicate about difficult topics. Students learn skills for nurturing observation, creativity, imagination, intuition, empathy, and self-reflection when engaging in HH. These skills are also crucial to holistic practice in healthcare.4-19 This presentation examines the influence of health humanities via cinematography, books, visual and performance arts on professional beliefs of DPT students. Several strategies for threading the HH through a curriculum will be discussed.


After engaging with HH, students were able to articulate strategies for working with patients facing difficult situations. Students reported being more creative in patient care planning after engaging in health humanities. Finally, a calling to the profession of physical therapy was reinforced among the students through exposure to the HH.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

Incorporating HH in educational programs may provide a means to better understand human suffering and teach students strategies of a caring profession in the affective domain of learning.



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Course Objectives

Objectives: At the conclusion of this session, participants will be able to:
1. Define health humanities.
2. Describe how health humanities may help students develop skills for building a therapeutic alliance with patients.
3. Review strategies for utilizing health humanities for teaching and learning in the affective domain in a DPT or PTA program.
4. Design strategies for threading health humanities though a DPT or PTA curriculum.1.

Instructional Methods

We will utilize lecture, discussion, case studies, and health humanities in the presentation.

Tentative Outline/Schedule

I. Introduction of Health Humanities (30 minutes)
II. Health Humanities Strategies used in a DPT Program (30 Minutes)
a. Weaving Visual & Performing Arts through the Curriculum
b. Books, Film, & Cinematography: From EBP to Geriatrics
III. Connecting Health Humanities to Student Outcomes - Drawing on the Affective Domain (15 minutes)
IV. Case Study & Discussion (15 minutes)

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  • Control #: 2752402
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Dr. Susan Klappa, Eric Strong
  • Keywords:

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