Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2021

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Critical Thinking: What is It? (Take 1) For every simple, declarative statement I can make about critical thinking, I can think of a dozen examples where it is not applicable. Critical thinking is situational, it is highly personalized, and it is absolutely vital— critical, you might say—to doing our work well. But what the heck is it, how do we do it, and how do we know if we've done it well? It's being able to step outside my own initial and emotional reaction to something and to look at it objectively from a variety of perspectives. —Allissa Haines It is the ability to make professional judgments based on facts. —Susan Salvo It's the single biggest problem facing our profession, if not the world, today. —Til Luchau It's messy! —Sandy Fritz CRITICAL THINKING: TURNING KNOWLEDGE INTO ACTION In that last paragraph, I made a value statement about critical thinking—that it's vital to doing our work well—but not everyone may agree with that point of view. I think we can agree, though, that massage therapists should engage in ethical actions that are within their scope of practice to use their skills to help improve the quality of life for their clients. I propose that when we add foundational knowledge to the decision-making process, those skills become even more refined, and the work becomes safer and more successful: this is the product of high-level critical thinking. This is my mission statement: I want to help massage therapists make safe, effective, and evidence-informed clinical decisions for their clients' benefit. In pursuit of that outcome, I have been grappling with the problem of critical thinking for a long time. I used to duck the issue by simply providing relevant information, and then leaving it for my readers and students to use to make their own decisions. But my thinking has evolved, and I have come to realize that supplying a lot of factual information is not sufficient to address my goal. Now in my writing and teaching, I purposely emphasize helping people analyze how to use knowledge to take appropriate action—which turns out to be a key factor in the critical-thinking process. Another driver for this article has been my work as an expert witness and a consultant in litigations where an MT has been accused of injuring a client. This is difficult and important work, and I am honored to do it, but it also fills me with frustration—mainly because I see the consequences of what happens when MTs don't have critical-thinking skills, or don't use them well. The harm done to clients and to the profession as a whole, in these cases, is heartbreaking. Finally, I have been inspired by the contributors to my podcast, I Have a Client Who …—Pathology Conversations with Ruth Werner. I have had the opportunity to communicate with dozens of massage therapists who have questions that come up midsession, and who must make a decision on the fly—sometimes without enough information to feel comfortable or confident about it. I love these conversations, which do the opposite of my legal work; they fill me with appreciation for our colleagues who are working hard to do well and also to do right by their clients. What I offer here is only one approach to critical thinking. I think it works for decision-making in a massage therapy context, but it is, of course, colored by my own filters and biases. That is inevitable. We cannot escape the limitations of our own points of view. However, we can become more aware of those limits and conscientious about trying to broaden them. I invite you to try the process I offer here. See what fits—and what doesn't— and then analyze why that's true, and whether it's time to revisit some of your own conscious cognitive processes. Most of the source material on critical thinking I relied on for this article is designed specifically for educators. This makes sense since the classroom is an ideal setting to promote and model how to use information in creative problem-solving. But critical thinking isn't just for the classroom, and massage therapists (like it or not) are also educators: We help our clients learn about their bodies and what they can do to feel healthier, have more energy, feel less stressed, and have less pain. So being able to communicate information to inspire action needs to be part of every MT's set of skills. I also reached out to many of the people I respect most in the massage therapy field, including people in leadership, classroom educators, continuing education providers, textbook authors, and others, to gather their thoughts on this slippery topic. You will see quotes from them throughout this article, and I have compiled a short video with their key points and thoughts, as well (see page 63 for QR code scan). I will start with another attempt to define critical thinking. Then, I will offer a set of steps that might work for massage therapists who want to become more disciplined about this process. Finally, I will address some of the many challenges to critical thinking our profession must struggle with. Critical Thinking: What Is It? (Take 2) At the beginning of this article, I tried to define critical thinking. But all I managed to do was describe it. Critical thinking is slippery. It is messy. It is important. But what is it really? Definitions of critical thinking vary. According to Richard Paul, director of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, "Critical thinking is thinking about thinking, while you're thinking, to make your thinking better." This is a glib soundbite rather than an in-depth definition, but it starts us on an interesting path. From this definition, 56 m a s s a g e & b o d y wo r k m ay/ j u n e 2 0 2 1

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