Vitalism in a chiropractic programme – A New Zealand case study
As a lecturer understanding one’s philosophical drivers in education is vital. There has been a long history of debate in chiropractic as to whether the traditional philosophy of vitalism should remain the chiropractic philosophy. A shift to mechanism in the twentieth century has seen evidence-based medicine become the dominant healthcare philosophy. How does a vitalistic point of view remain relevant in this environment?
My study critically examines lecturers’ perceptions of vitalism and how these are included in a modern curriculum. Literature from biological science supports a shift from historical vitalism to contemporary neo-vitalism, a model that acknowledges the self-organising, self-regulating and self-healing capabilities of the body. Further research into complex adaptive systems may provide another avenue for philosophical exploration in chiropractic.
A qualitative methodology within the post-structural paradigm framed this study. A narrative of the lived experience of some members of the faculty teaching in an undergraduate chiropractic degree was sought.
Findings are built on several individual interviews and focus groups of lecturers held at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic. This research suggests that the key definition of vitalism used by these lecturers is neo-vitalism. The reality of life as a chiropractic educator is that historically, there has been a certain amount of tension between vitalistic philosophy and mechanistic research in the profession. This case study suggests that while this tension is still apparent today, neo-vitalism provides an environment where that tension is lessened.
In the face of the new biology of complex adaptive systems there is potential for a greater common understanding that, with further research and discussion, could lessen the divide even further.