Embodied knowledge in chronic illness and injury

Authors


  • Based on a presentation at the 6th Philosophy in the Nurses’ World Conference: Reconsidering Mind/Body in Nursing Banff, Alberta, Canada, May 13, 2001.

Correspondence: Mary Wilde, 518 Nottingham Rd., Syracuse, NY 13210. E-mail: <mhwilde@email.unc.edu>

Abstract

Embodied knowledge in chronic illness and injury

When people experience chronic illness or serious injury, changes occur not just within their physical bodies but also in their embodiments, that is, how they view the world through their bodies. For such patients, dualistic (mind–body) notions of the body as object and the mind as subject can devalue experiences that are necessary for healing and for managing everyday problems related to their illness or injury. Nurses need to be able to guide people with illness or injury to new levels of wellness, but may lack appropriate theoretical conceptualizations. Philosophies that underlie embodied knowledge — in particular, philosophies of Merleau-Ponty and Polanyi — were explored yielding two new ways to understand the body. The body as ‘silent partner’ fosters an appreciation of the body's own subjectivity that can be enhanced in nursing care through sensitivity, listening, and creative coaching. Nurses can assist their patients to identify new and positive understandings of what their bodies mean to them after bodily changes. The body as ‘informant’ holds much promise for solving some of the everyday problems that people with chronic illness or injury experience. By using phenomenological and other naturalistic methods, researchers and patients can find clues to solving such problems, clues that are known through daily living but hidden beneath conscious awareness. As a result, some of the practical know-how of the body as ‘informant’ can be transformed into testable nursing interventions.

Ancillary