Berlin-born in 1907, Berta Busse trained at the Anna Hermann School of gymnastics and dance and was an instructor at the school until 1933. She fled Nazi Germany as a Jewish refugee in 1938, and moved to London, where she studied to become a Physiotherapist.
Karel Bobath was also born in Berlin, and trained as a doctor at Berlin University, graduating in 1932. He became a Jewish refugee to London in 1939. And it’s here that Beta and Karel renewed their friendship, going on to marry in 1941.
Berta was fascinated with trying to understand the challenges adults and children faced when they had neurological disabilities.
She said herself: “I was trained at a school for gymnastics, but not the ‘acrobatic’ type we see now. We were taught about the analysis of normal movements and about various ways of relaxation. We learned to feel and evaluate degrees of relaxation not only on tight muscles but its effect on the strength and activity of their antagonists. This was done by a special way of “handling a person”, inducing movements in response to being moved. As I was quite good at it, I was employed to teach it there after my training. This was probably the basis of my work with patients who suffer from abnormal coordination many years afterwards.”
She recalled treating a 46-year-old painter, and refers to the experience as “…the start of a new treatment, a pure accident, but most new ideas start like this.”
What she experienced was a patient who did not know they were demonstrating resistance and assistance in their movement of their elbow or rather pulling and pushing. So, she worked with him to extend his range of ‘flex’, she noticed that there was a change in how much pull or assistance there was, and how much resistance. As she put it “I realised for the first time the patients pulling into flexicon produced his spasticity, and this spasticity was not an unalterable state which could only be treated by stretching spastic muscles.”
Together, they explored how therapy would make a difference to a patient’s ability to move. The combination of Bertha’s understanding of the body and its movement with Dr Bobath’s medical knowledge created ‘The Bobath Concept’.
In 1951 Berta started her own treatment and teaching practice of The Bobath Concept. She was fortunate to be supported by the Ministry of Education’s Medical Department, who helped secure funding so she could start treating children and educating others.
Dr and Mrs Bobath went on to teach and share their knowledge throughout the world and were recognised with many honours for their pioneering and innovative work. Their concept evolved into the Bobath Approach that we use now, and has been highly influential in introducing developmental movement concepts into treating various conditions, and for movement learning in various fields.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has said that the Bobath Concept “It’s the most popular approach for treating neurologically-impaired patients in the western world”.
The Bobath’s immense legacy lives on in the work of Bobath therapists and tutors. And in the millions of babies, children and adults who have benefited from their ground-breaking work.