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Why did you choose a career in physiotherapy?
Andressa Maria: I’ve always been very fascinated by physiotherapy. It deals with the most basic aspects of being human, because it’s about helping people regain the ability to move freely. That was the key factor that convinced me to pursue this field.
Sang Hoon: After I completed my studies in biomedical science, I realized I was looking for jobs that would help people maintain their health. I found out about physiotherapy and learned that physiotherapists work to assist people with impaired abilities, such as the disabled and aged, to improve their quality of life, and that appealed to me a lot.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your work?
related article An Open Life by Michele Di Mascio, USA Through practicing Nichiren Buddhism, Michele Di Mascio was able to to come to terms with his homosexuality. Through efforts to support his HIV-infected partner, Michele entered upon a journey with leading world scientists to find a way to eradicate the HIV virus. Sang Hoon: Occasionally, patients who have been making good progress suddenly develop new symptoms such as pain in a different part of the body. That’s very challenging, especially as a junior physiotherapist. On the other hand, it’s very rewarding seeing patients make a full recovery. I feel like I have contributed to their happiness.
Andressa Maria: In my work, I incorporate an approach called the Global Postural Re-education method. When the posture of a patient is off balance, it’s often an expression of emotions such as sadness or embarrassment. When I interact cheerfully with my patients during therapy sessions, it seems to have an emotional healing effect, and this affects their recovery. It makes me very happy when my patients are able to leave the facility standing up straight, full of joy. I feel proud to be a physiotherapist and inspired to continue.
What are the keys to being a good physiotherapist?
Sang Hoon: First is good communication skills. Physiotherapists see a wide variety of patients, and if we don’t understand each other, it’s difficult to provide correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. I always try to explain things simply and to use visual materials such as information sheets and pictures of the exercises. The other key is constant professional development. New technology and research mean that the field of physiotherapy is developing faster than ever. I’m constantly trying to update my technique by attending workshops and searching for scientific proof of new treatments.
Andressa Maria: I believe that what is most important in being a good physiotherapist is maintaining the desire to serve others. Also, it is important to enjoy interacting with people and to be a good listener. And it is essential that one continue to improve one’s therapy skills. In that sense, I feel that the SGI organization serves as a good “training ground” for me to improve myself in all aspects of my work. I used to be very shy around people and was not very good at speaking with people or even listening to what others had to say. SGI activities challenged me to overcome those weaknesses. As a result, many of my patients return just to have a conversation with me or enjoy some tea together, even after they have recovered.
How does your Buddhist practice impact your approach on a day-to-day basis?
Andressa Maria: Naturally, I always put a wholehearted effort into working with my patients, but I can’t perform at my best unless I’m feeling energized and positive. If I don’t feel that way, it’s easy to be influenced by negativity. In my daily Buddhist practice, therefore, I chant strongly to make a positive impact on my work environment and not to be influenced by negative things. Being able to work cheerfully and with passion is key in being able to help my patients maintain their physical as well as psychological well-being until their next therapy session. Nichiren Daishonin states in his writings: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.” This is a passage I treasure deeply because it teaches that change begins with me, here and now.
Sang Hoon: My practice helps me approach work as the best stage for my personal development and growth. People from all walks of life open up and share their sufferings, and I do my best to treat them. Patients place their trust in me, without judgment, and trying to respond to that on a daily basis helps me develop empathy and forget about my ego, being focused instead on helping my patients get over their physical suffering. The patients recover and appreciate my help, but I feel grateful to them for the opportunity to develop and improve myself. SGI President Ikeda writes: “When we care for others, our own strength to live increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our lives also expand. Actions to benefit others are not separate from actions to benefit oneself. Our lives and the lives of others are ultimately inseparable.”
related article Buddhism in Cuba by Joannet Delgado, general director, SGI-Cuba Joannet Delgado, general director of SGI-Cuba, shares her journey of discovering Nichiren Buddhism and how it took root in her country. How important is it to enable patients to retain a sense of dignity in situations where they may feel helpless?
Andressa Maria: When I am working one-on-one with my patients, I interact with them in the same way I encourage my fellow members in the SGI or share Buddhism with my friends: I engage with them wholeheartedly and cheerfully. I try to maintain a positive attitude during each hour-long therapy session so that I can provide constant motivation and inspiration to my patients.
Sang Hoon: Sometimes patients feel they are useless after their functioning or mobility has been limited by an illness or accident, and their self-esteem suffers. This makes them passive and less confident in regaining their functional ability. As a result, they show very slow progress or even do not want to undergo rehabilitation. To assist patients to regain confidence, I usually set a goal for them to achieve. I start with small, easily achievable goals and gradually build on those, giving them positive feedback as they progress. When they see this progress, their negativity starts to dissipate and they begin to believe in their ability to recover.
What influence has your Buddhist practice had on your understanding of physical health?
Sang Hoon: I think the Buddhist concept of the oneness of body and mind is very relevant to maintaining physical health. We achieve health when there is a harmony between body and mind, or spirit. I’ve found that patients in an unhealthy spiritual state, such as those who are depressed or thinking very negatively, often make slow progress in their physical recovery. However, when patients have a positive attitude, they recover well and can be discharged early. That’s why I believe that true health depends on healing the spiritual and physical aspects together.
Andressa Maria: I have learned that an inner transformation is manifested in a transformation in one’s outward appearance. Taking action to support others has a great impact on our health. I try to convey this perspective to my patients. I apply what I have learned from studying Buddhism when I encourage my patients on a psychological level, and I put into practice what I have learned academically when I’m giving them physical therapy.
[Courtesy April 2013 SGI Quarterly]
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