This post is a stimulus piece for occupational therapist (OT) coaches who plan to attend the next International OT Coach Special Interest Group meeting, which will be held by teleconference on September 8th /9th , 5.00pm, Thursday for New York; 9.00pm, Thursday for UK; 7.00am Friday Australian Eastern Standard Time. Find city time and date
My colleague, Jeanette Isaacs-Young, has asked me to speak at the meeting about research … well this topic is quite broad, so following are just a few ideas that might be relevant!
Think first about purpose
In my view, all research is driven by the research question or hypothesis. Before you do anything you need to think about “what do I want to know?” Your research question will determine what kind of research activities you do, such as reviewing others’ studies, using a particular study to inform your practice, or perhaps conducting a research project.
So, when you think about your practice as an OT coach what do you want to know? Some possible questions might be:
- Is my practice effective?
- What do my clients think of my OT coaching?
- Is OT coaching the best type of approach for my clients?
- What types of clients would benefit from OT coaching?
- Are there any clients for whom OT coaching is not effective?
- What kinds of benefits do clients achieve from participating in OT coaching?
There is a continuum of research activities
Practitioners may use research in a variety of ways to inform their practice. For example, you may be a research consumer, that is, you read and appraise others’ research and determine whether and how others’ work may be relevant to your practice. Or, you might produce research, for example, you may engage in a research project with others to find out more about a gap in practice knowledge.
There are different levels of formality of research. For example, you may engage in a systematic review of your own practice to determine trends and patterns in your clients and to develop your own practice-based evidence or you may enrol in a higher research degree or you may opt to engage in a funded research study.
Research for practice development
When people think “research” they typically think about studies conducted by academics or students, however there is a kind of “everyday research” that might be more useful to practitioners. This type of research could be used to assist practitioners to develop their practices. This research is about systematically collecting information about the activities practitioners do every day and then reflecting on the data. So, for example, you might collect information about the kinds of clients you work with, such as demographic data, data about the problems and issues the clients are facing, and data about the kinds of actions you and your clients take and the outcomes of these actions. When reviewing this data you might notice patterns among the clients, your activities, and/or the outcomes for clients. You can then use this information in planning services, targeting specific client groups, identifying areas for further professional development, or identifying issues for further, more formal, research.
Hints about engaging in research
In my view, being systematic is what makes something “research”. Having a system or a clearly defined process for identifying, thinking about, and using data is paramount. Being systematic means that you are less influenced by your own personal biases and others’ biases and therefore you are more likely to discover something which is useful for you.
Partner with others
Research that is conducted with others is more likely to be more rigourous, more useful, and more fun! Collaboration with others means that you have access to a greater pool of skills and knowledge than just relying on yourself. Working with others fosters creativity. It can increase access to resources and to wider networks when it comes time to sharing your findings.
Schedule time for research
Regardless of the type of research activity you engage in, it will take time. Time is needed to read, think, reflect, write, and discuss. Time is needed to integrate research knowledge into your future thinking, saying, and doing. Allow yourself this time.
Working with research higher degree students
Students who are completing an honours, a masters, a professional doctorate, or a PhD degree will usually need to complete research as part of their studies. Supporting research higher degree students to conduct research in your practice setting can be a very effective way of engaging with research. For example, you could suggest a research topic/question that is of interest to you and then encourage students to work with you to answer the research question. Students will complete much of the leg work and you will gain the knowledge that is relevant to your practice setting.
A partnership between a practitioner and a research higher degree student is mutually beneficial. You can enable access to your practice and/or your clients, which is desired (and needed) by students and universities. In return, students will help you answer your research question by reviewing existing literature about the topic and then engaging in original research to extend understanding about the topic. In addition, research higher degree students are supervised by experienced researchers (academics), which means that the project will be methodologically sound and conducted ethically. There may even be research grant monies available from the university to support the research project.
Example of research in OT coaching
A good starting point for thinking about research in OT coaching is to read Dorothy Kessler and Fiona Graham’s article in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, “The use of coaching in occupational therapy: An integrative review”. In this review of 24 articles published between 1995 and 2014, Kessler and Graham (2015) found that the effectiveness of coaching in occupational therapy was “promising” (p. 175) however more research was needed. In particular, Kessler and Graham recommend that in any study of coaching in occupational therapy, the definition of coaching ought to first be defined, and the theories upon which the practice was based ought to be described. This is because there is variation in how coaching is practiced in occupational therapy. Kessler and Graham further recommend that at a minimum, occupational therapists could use coaching in their practice and carefully monitor the outcomes achieved.
There is a research activity for you
No matter what stage of your career, you can always learn something new; indeed, I think that learning is what keeps practice fresh, interesting, and up-to-date. There is a range of ways that you can engage in research in your practice: as a research consumer, a scholarly thinker, a research sharer, a supporter of research higher degree student research, or a research producer.