Hermeneutical Healing: Physical Therapy with a Gadamerian Twist


  • Dr. Casey Rentmeester Bellin College
  • Dr. Eric Chaconas Bellin College
  • Dr. Jon Weiss Bellin College
  • Dr. Mark Bake Bellin College




In recent decades, phenomenology has been utilized not only as a conceptual framework from which to understand medical encounters in healthcare settings, but also to guide medical professionals in providing care. In the realm of physical therapy, phenomenology has been touted as a philosophically-based avenue to aid in helping to understand what it means to be a patient. The works of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger have been utilized as paths to approach phenomenologically-informed care in physical therapy. However, to our knowledge, no significant connection has been made in regard to the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s phenomenology and hermeneutics in the realm of physical therapy. The authors aim to close that gap by showing the ways in which Gadamer’s philosophy can help physical therapists provide phenomenologically-informed patient care. They begin by outlining some of the touchpoints between phenomenology and healthcare and then introduce Gadamer as a figure who deserves attention in the question of how to apply phenomenology to healthcare settings. Upon analyzing Gadamer’s account of what it means to experience an altered body, they outline Gadamer’s understanding of tact, practical knowledge, and good sense in order to show how to understand at a conceptual level what it means to empathize with patients on the path to building therapeutic alliance, that is, a cooperative working relationship. They then look closely at Gadamer’s hermeneutics and particularly his comments on how to cultivate a fusion of horizons in order to attempt to help guide physical therapists in theoretically understanding how to empathize with their patients. Ultimately, they argue that physical therapists who practice phenomenologically-informed care, which they call “hermeneutical healing,” are positioned well to form strong working relationships with their patients.

Keywords: Medical Humanities, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Gadamer, Fusion of Horizons

Author Biographies

Dr. Casey Rentmeester, Bellin College

Dr. Casey Rentmeester is the Director of General Education and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bellin College.

Dr. Eric Chaconas, Bellin College

Dr. Eric Chaconas is an orthopaedic physical therapist, researcher and educator.  He is the program director of the Bellin College Doctorate of Science in Physical Therapy Program.

Dr. Jon Weiss, Bellin College

Dr. Jon Weiss is a Board Certified Specialist in geriatric physical therapy and the Program Coordinator of the Doctorate of Science in Physical Therapy program at Bellin College.

Dr. Mark Bake, Bellin College

Dr. Mark Bake is the Dean of Allied Health Sciences at Bellin College.