The post second world war era brought an increasing awareness of the need for rehabilitation, leading a burgeoning of interest in all aspects of rehabilitation. By the early 1950s a variety of treatment approaches specifically designed to address neurological disability came into being, most of which had a theoretical basis in neurophysiology.
The Bobath Concept was one of these approaches, its founders Berta Bobath a physiotherapist, and her husband Dr Karel Bobath. The Bobaths had the ability to learn from experience and to adapt their concept with the changing needs of their patients. This ensured that the Bobath Concept developed into a treatment approach that is relevant today and is one of the most widely used approaches.
Berta Bobath (nee Busse)
Berta Busse was born in 1907 and grew up in Berlin. From 1924 to 1926 she trained at the Anna Hermann School of gymnastics and dance and continued to be an instructor in gymnastics at the school until 1933, when the tide of opinion in Germany turned against liberal establishments such as the Anna Hermann School.
Berta was later to attribute her understanding of normal movement, exercise and particularly relaxation, to the experience she gained during this period. In 1938, the rise of anti-Semitism in Berlin caused her to flee Germany and she eventually took up residence in London. In London, she renewed her friendship with Karel Bobath, with whom she had been acquainted in her early teens, and they married in 1941.
In London she began to use her skills as a masseuse and gymnastic instructor. In 1941 she gained employment at The Princess Louise Hospital for Children and began to study to become a Physiotherapist.
In 1943 while treating the portrait painter Simon Ewes, Berta began to develop a different way of treating spasticity which was, over time, to lead her into developing a concept of treatment, not only for the treatment of adults with hemiplegia, but also children with cerebral palsy.
Karel Bobath was born in Berlin into a family originating from an area in Austro-Hungary that had been absorbed into Czechoslovakia following the First World War.
Karel trained as a doctor at Berlin University, graduating in 1932. He was subsequently refused permission to practice medicine in Berlin. He followed his family roots taking up Czech citizenship and returning to medical school, he graduated for a second time in medicine in 1936.
He worked in general paediatrics and paediatric surgery at The Children’s Hospital in Brno until 1939 when the imminent invasion of Czechoslovakia made it necessary to flee to London.
Karel married Berta Busse in 1941. He shared Berta’s fascination with trying to unravel and understand the problems of adults and children with neurological disabilities, and exploring how therapy would make a difference to their ability to move. By 1944, he had been appointed to the Cerebral Palsy unit at Harperbury Hospital and began a life long quest to understand how the treatment approach used by his wife worked.
Together they developed the Bobath Concept for the treatment of children with cerebral palsy and adults with neurological conditions. In their lifetime, they travelled extensively, teaching and training tutors throughout the world. They both received many honours for their pioneering and innovative work. They died in 1991.