Atlas Physical Therapy - August 2017

Atlas Physical Therapy

September 2017



The Enduring Power of Catharsis

Aristotle, Greek Tragedy, and Physical Therapy

empathy for them and get to share in their experience. If you’ve ever shed a tear during a movie, you’ve experienced a form of catharsis. In the 20th century, catharsis became of interest to psychoanalysts, including Sigmund Freud. He believed that if a patient could recall a tragic event in their lives, they could work to purge those emotions, limiting the effect they had on a patient. Indeed, this view was not too dissimilar from what Aristotle hoped art could achieve. The actions you see on the stage may not mirror your current circumstance, but the emotions of the characters express something all humans go through. By identifying with these emotions, a viewer or patient allows themselves the chance to expel them. Now, physical therapy obviously deals with bodily pain instead of psychological issues, but the result of physical therapy can offer a similar type of relief. Very often, a patient suffering from pain will also be dealing

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” –Aristotle If you head into Manhattan for a show, odds are you’ll catch a musical on Broadway. If you venture downtown, however, you’ll notice that nearly all throughout the year, at one theater or another, you’ll be able to view a performance of a classic Greek tragedy. Some of these plays are over 2,000 years old, and yet, they seem as relevant to our lives now as they must’ve seemed to ancient Greeks. Why, you might wonder, does the work of people like Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides continue to resonate? Well, in his classic “Poetics,” the great philosopher Aristotle proposed an answer. He believed that viewing tragedy onstage produced a feeling he named “catharsis.” Catharsis allows us to expel emotions like pity and fear without having to undergo trauma ourselves. When we watch a character experience tragedy, we feel

with emotional trouble. Maybe they can’t participate in the activities that give them the most joy, or maybe they can’t make it through the day without wincing in discomfort. This lack, naturally, causes quality of life to dip. Physical therapy can help by expelling that physical pain from the body. Over the course of treatment, what was once a stressful hindrance starts to feel conquerable. As you grow stronger, you realize that the life you once thought was lost can be regained. This overcoming of an issue can be a powerful emotional triumph in addition to a physical victory. Now, I would never claim to be a psychoanalyst, and I’m even less qualified to write a play. What I hope to do with my patients, though, is give them relief from the physical ailments that are keeping them from living their fullest lives. That sounds a little like catharsis to me.

1 • 973-325-7212 – Sam Dimitrakis

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