Research in the clinical setting : a qualitative study of the value of play research in the continuing education of occupational therapists.
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Occupational therapists have always recognized playas an important part of a child's life. However, until recently play has been viewed as a medium for reaching treatment goals, rather than as an activity that is valuable in and of itself. If occupational therapists think of playas the primary activity or occupation of childhood, then play should be a very important area of focus for paediatric clinicians. In order to assist children to become as independent as possible with play and to have fulfilling play experiences the occupational therapist needs to have a clear understanding of how to assess, set goals which lead towards competence in play, and promote play. Recent play literature has placed importance on play behaviours and looking at the relationship between the child and both the human and nonhuman environment. Believing that play and playfulness can and should be promoted, for children with physical disabilities, requires that therapists learn new assessment and intervention strategies. A new assessment tool, The Test of Playfulness, was developed by Bundy in 1994. It addressed play behaviours and environmental influences. The author, a co-investigator and eight occupational therapists were involved in a playfulness study using this test to compare the playfulness of children with physical disabilities with their able-bodied peers. After the study was completed the author questioned whether or not involvement in the playfulness study was enough of a change agent to bring about transformative learning in order to further the eight occupational therapists' education about play.This study investigated changes in either the therapists' thinking about play or their behaviour in their clinical practice. The study also examined the participants' retention of knowledge about the Test of Playfulness. The eight therapists who had been involved in the playfulness study (participants) were matched with eight therapists who had not been involved (nonparticipants). The therapists were interviewed 9 to 12 months after completion of the playfulness study. They were asked to describe various scenarios of play and open ended prompts were used to elicit the therapists' perceptions of play, good play, the role or value of play, environmental and gender influences on play, play assessment and intervention, and play research, for children with and without disabilities. The participants were also prompted to discuss their experience with the playfulness study. A self-report questionnaire was also completed at the end of the interview. The results of the study demonstrated that: (a) the play research project was a good format for continuing the participants' education about play; (b) their thinking had changed about play; (c) according to self report, they had used this new knowledge in their clinical practice; and (d) the participants remembered the items on the Test of Playfulness and could use them in describing various aspects of play. This study found that participating in a play research project had been an effective method of professional development. It also highlighted the need for increased awareness of the recent literature on play and the developing role of the occupational therapist in the assessment and intervention of play.