In 2022 we celebrated Women’s & Men’s Health Physiotherapy’s 30-year anniversary, a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the inception and evolution of the first solely dedicated Women’s Health Physiotherapy private practice in Melbourne.
On a sunny day in October 2022 at Montalto on the Mornington Peninsula, the current WMHP team were joined by the founder of WMHP, Helena Frawley and other special guests to celebrate the 30-year milestone. We shared stories, reminisced over photo boards, laughed through songs and reflected on our history. We remembered the successes and challenges, contribution of the past and present people, relationships with hundreds of valued referring practitioners and most importantly the thousands of patients who have trusted us to restore their pelvic health, empowering them to live their best life, a privilege we will never take for granted.
The reflections shared on that day inspired us to record our history, our journey, our story- we hope you enjoy it.
In 1992, the now Associate Professor Helena Frawley recognised the need for a comprehensive women’s health physiotherapy service that focussed on continence and persistent pelvic pain. From her vision Helena Frawley Women’s Health Physiotherapy was born, practicing from rooms in South Yarra, the CBD and later Malvern and Cabrini Hospital.
In 1994, Shan Morrison was working at Monash Medical Centre and inspired by a rotation on the maternity ward, joined the Australian Physiotherapy Association Continence and Women’s Health Physio Group (APA CWHPG) committee. There she was fortunate to meet the Chair of the group - Helena Frawley.
In 1995, Helena invited Shan to become her first employee, and so the practice name was changed to Women’s Health & Continence Physiotherapy. By 1997, the practice had employed another two physiotherapists and started consulting in Bayside at the encouragement of Urologist, Mr Peter Royce. 1997 was also a pivotal year in the history of the pelvic floor physiotherapy profession. Helena, Shan and others on the APA CWHPG realised a post-graduate qualification was needed to ensure professional recognition of the growing evidence base supporting pelvic health physiotherapy. Helena and a small working party designed the curriculum which was accepted by the University of Melbourne – the first cohort graduating in 1998 with a Post-graduate certificate in Continence and Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation.
In 1998, Women’s Health & Continence Physiotherapy moved into a circa 1920’s terrace house at 1201 Malvern Road, Malvern. Helena presented Shan with the opportunity and honour of becoming her business partner. The name of the practice was changed to Women’s & Men’s Health Physiotherapy to reflect the broad range of pelvic health services being provided.
Many wonderful friendships, clinical and research collaborations developed with pelvic health physiotherapists around Australia. WMHP participated in Dr Trish Neumann’s
important PhD research that found an individualised treatment program prescribed and supervised by pelvic floor physiotherapists improved symptoms and quality of life in women with urinary stress incontinence. WMHP thrived in their Malvern Rd home, expanding the team to include more post-graduate qualified pelvic health physiotherapists. This included Jane Richards, Emily Wood, Leonie Yeap and Melissa Martin
- who all remain an integral part of WMHP after 24, 20, 20 and 16 years respectively. Helena moved into part time research, commencing her masters and then PhD which led her to make the difficult decision to step away from WMHP. In 2004
Shan became the sole Director of WMHP and along with a group of equally passionate physiotherapists
and support personnel developed WMHP to be one of the largest and leading providers of pelvic health physiotherapy services in Australia.
Despite starting as a women’s health practice, Shan and the team were seeing increasing numbers of men with pelvic health issues. During a discussion with Urologist Mr David Webb in 2005, it was hypothesised that bladder control outcomes following prostate cancer surgery might be improved by commencing pelvic floor muscle training before surgery. This positive clinical experience lead to collaborations with researchers and the development of innovative treatments such as Trans-perineal ultrasound to assess and teach effective urethral sphincter and pelvic floor activation - now used around the world to reduce the severity of urinary leakage after prostate cancer surgery.
Growing in size and reputation, WMHP was invited to be part of multi-disciplinary services at Australian Urology Associates in Malvern, Urology Consultants Victoria in East Melbourne, Southern Urology in East Bentleigh, Metropolitan Urology in Box Hill & at the Cabrini Mother & Baby Centre, and in 2009 expanded their Bayside service into their own rooms at 170 Thomas Street, Hampton.
By 2013, WMHP had outgrown the Malvern Road rooms and needed a new home. In August 2014 thanks to an amazing team of people, in particular our Business Manager Michelle Amery, WMHP relocated to 549 Burke Rd Camberwell. The vision was achieved to create a long-term home for WMHP in a purpose-built environment that was warm and inviting, reflective of our high-quality service, included additional consulting rooms to improve the quality of life of more people, and included training facilities to support our focus on professional development and learning.
Since then WMHP has continued to innovate, continually looking for better ways to provide a whole person, patient-centered service for thousands of people seeking to improve their pelvic health. In 2018 Shan and Leonie were fortunate to meet Carolyn Vandyken, Canadian pelvic health physiotherapist whose structured biopsychosocial framework resonated strongly with our psychologically informed practice. We have been able to apply this approach, understanding each person’s lived experience by exploring their thoughts, beliefs, emotions and social factors alongside the biological aspects. We have also come a full circle, being part of Helena’s important research into endometriosis-associated pain.
We are proud of our story and have absolutely loved the journey. If we were to articulate the main two reasons why WMHP has been so successful, it would be;
1. That we have lived and breathed our core values; Respect Everyone, Work Together, Embrace Learning, Strive for Excellence and Make Connections
2. We have been committed to our core purpose that WMHP exists to restore pelvic health, empowering every person to live their best life.