Themes and Reflections on A Leg to Stand On

Themes and Reflections on A Leg to Stand On

Oliver Sack’s A Leg to Stand On is an inspiring story for everyone especially those who are pursuing a career in the field of medicine. The story, written in the doctor’s perspective, shares reflections of a doctor in his own journey and struggle to survive a truly depressing incident. The themes imbedded may inspire especially those who are aspiring for medical or counseling practice or even those who need to find inspiration in their current practice.

The author uses very relevant themes that every reader can learn from. Specifically, unlocking the themes in the story reveals advice for those who aim to be medical practitioners or therapists in the future. In this paper, we discuss how these themes can be applied by anyone who tries to pursue a career in the helping profession despite many struggles that can come along the way.

Unlike in his other novels, Sacks himself plays the patient in the story. He encounters a bull on a mountain in Norway, which leaves him with a severely damaged leg, making him unable to walk for some time. The pain he felt when he found out about his condition was beyond physical. In fact, it can be considered an emotional torment for the thought of being crippled while holding practice at the same is somewhat intolerable. It is a common thinking that if a doctor cannot cure his own illness, he is not fit for the profession and he will not be able to help others as well.

The experience of the protagonist in the story teaches everyone to be determined with one’s plans, despite tribulations. Specifically, the courage the doctor shows during the time he finds out his condition until after recuperation stage is specifically notable. Aside from teaching how to face dilemma, the story also teaches us to keep on hoping in order to reach our goal.

Being determined is very important. In the role of a therapist, determination plays a significant role. Just like the therapy that the doctor undergoes in the story, a striving therapist or medical practitioner should undergo challenges and work on them with complete determination. The helping profession requires a handful of determination from the doctor or therapist. Without it, many cases will end up unsuccessfully. Therefore, a student of occupational therapy should imbibe this quality.

Determination is partly characterized by courage and partly by knowledge. A therapist first needs to have pertinent knowledge in the field, then show courage when handling clients. Being determined requires knowledge to know what should be done exactly to reach the target. In other words, a person’s determination is affected by the knowledge to do what is right. It is only by knowing a case by heart that one can know how to act upon it and prevent mistakes.

Similarly, the theme of trust is seen in the story. When the incident happens, the main character experiences the typical feelings a patient feels. Formerly, he is used to giving hope to others, and people completely trust his expertise. In the story, the reverse happens. Instead of asking patients to trust him, he needs to trust others in order to be cured.

Trusting one’s knowledge and that of others is very important in the occupational therapy practice. A therapist cannot rely only on his own knowledge especially in making important decisions. One needs to consult with others just like what Sacks does in the story. Trust is critical in the patient-therapist as well as therapist-patient relationship. By trusting and helping each other, the work becomes easier and success is more guaranteed.

Another theme implied in the story is positivity. When Sacks feels the numbness of his leg, he thinks that he cannot revive it anymore. He somehow panics but later on, he still bears positive attitude that no matter what happens, something else can still be done.

The concept of positivity should be applied widely in therapy. No matter how difficult a case may be, the therapist should bear a positive outlook that could help facilitate the process. For instance, even though the therapist senses difficulty of bringing about change in a client at the very beginning of the session, the therapist should not easily give up. All means must be exhausted to reach the target.

Positivity is a very important recipe in therapy. There are times when it seems nothing can be done, for instance a patient who does not want to cooperate would be very difficult to handle. In this case, the character of the therapist will be tested. Without positivity of at least the therapist, the thin chance of changing how the patient thinks and acts may be lost.

Positivity is not limited to the way a person thinks or feel. It is also manifested in the way a person carries oneself, especially in front of others. This is very important in the occupational therapy practice. From the beginning of the session, the therapist needs to project a positive outlook so that the patient would imbibe the same. With a positive outlook, the patient will participate more openly until change is achieved.

Although the book focuses on the author’s experience as a medical practitioner and patient, it also suggests some ideal qualities expected of those in the helping professions. Specifically, determination, trust, and positivity are some ingredients of the successful recuperation that Sacks undergoes in the story. These same values are very important in therapy/practice to ensure success of every case handled.


Sacks, Oliver. (1998). A leg to stand on. NY: Touchstone Books.


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