Critical analysis (or the ability to recognize taken-for-granted assumptions and their effects) is a skill that requires teaching and practice. The purpose of this article is to introduce a framework for critically analyzing assumptions within physical therapy and illustrate its utility through application to 2 examples: a physical therapy clinic logo and an outcome measure for health-related quality of life (HRQOL). This 7-step framework for critical analysis was created for a pilot project to develop reflexivity among senior physical therapist students and further developed through an iterative process of reflecting on its utility for advancing the field of physical therapy. The 7-step framework is an iterative process involving a cascade of 7 steps: (1) name the specific aspect of practice being analyzed, (2) identify the intended purposes of this aspect of practice, (3) uncover the assumptions that support these intended purposes, (4) identify who benefits, (5) identify who is disadvantaged, (6) link these specific ideas to society-level patterns, and (7) conceive of alternatives that mitigate actual or potential harms. It is emphasized that being theoretically critical does not equate to being negative. Rather, the word “critical” is used in the sense of thinking deeply and carefully about the intended and unintended consequences of actions (including common professional practices, ways of speaking, and visual representations) in order to reflect on and mature the field of physical therapy.
The purpose of critical analysis is to invite and promote dialogue that assists physical therapist clinicians, researchers, and students to arrive at new insights about the impacts of their day-to-day actions.