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Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Learning Together: Exploring Instructional Support Personnel’s Perceptions of Occupational Therapists in School Mental Health—A Pilot Study
Author Affiliations
  • Midwestern University
  • Midwestern University
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Mental Health / Basic Research
Research Platform   |   August 01, 2016
Learning Together: Exploring Instructional Support Personnel’s Perceptions of Occupational Therapists in School Mental Health—A Pilot Study
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505092. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.70S1-RP303B
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505092. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.70S1-RP303B
Abstract

Date Presented 4/9/2016

The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate the perspectives of instructional support personnel (ISP) with regard to the involvement of occupational therapy (OT) practitioners in school-based mental health. After a training, ISP were more knowledgeable about OT’s role in school mental health.

Primary Author and Speaker: Susan Cahill

Additional Author and Speaker: Brad Egan

SIGNIFICANCE: Historically, occupational therapy (OT) practitioners have focused on providing interventions to children and youths with significant mental health diagnoses. More recently, OT practitioners are attempting to collaborate with school personnel to address children’s mental health needs at school. However, OT practitioners often encounter resistance because school personnel believe that the role of OT in the schools is limited to handwriting production and sensory processing.
INNOVATION: Little research has been conducted related to how school personnel perceive OT’s involvement in school-based mental health services. The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate the perspectives of instructional support personnel (ISP) with regard to the involvement of OT practitioners in the provision of school-based mental health services in one special education cooperative. As OT practitioners seek to become more involved in school-based mental health services, knowledge related to others’ perspectives about their involvement is particularly crucial.
METHOD: A mixed-methods pilot study was conducted after institutional review board approval was obtained. Five school-based OT practitioners and 3 instructional support personnel were selected by their supervisor to participate in a training consisting of one face-to-face meeting and six online discussions based on the book Mental Health Promotion, Prevention, and Intervention for Children and Youth: A Guiding Framework for Occupational Therapy. The 3 instructional support personnel were recruited for this study. Data were collected through pre–post surveys (20 questions), responses from online discussion board posts, and a focus group. All 3 of the participants were active in all data collection activities. Surveys and online discussion posts were deidentified, and verbatim transcripts were generated from the focus group.
Survey data were analyzed using descriptive statistics with SPSS Version 22. Mean scores and mean difference scores were calculated. Mean difference scores > 2 standard deviations (SDs) were reported. Qualitative data were analyzed using a three-step process that involved (1) data reduction (which includes the coding process); (2) data display (i.e., organization of the data in a systematic way that allows the investigator to begin to draw conclusions); and (3) conclusion drawing and verification.
RESULTS: Mean difference scores > 2 SD were calculated for the following survey items: being able to understand OT’s role in providing Tier 2 (M difference = 2.0) and Tier 3 mental health interventions (M difference = 2.4). Two major qualitative themes emerged: mental health is everyone’s responsibility and OT practitioners are mental health collaborators.
DISCUSSION: The results from this pilot study suggest that ISP had limited knowledge of OT’s role in providing school-based mental health services prior to the training and that their perceptions changed after the training. After the training, the ISP had a better understanding of OT’s role, as well as the different types of mental health interventions that OT practitioners could provide.
Research is needed to determine whether this training approach yields similar outcomes in other school settings and to understand the best ways that OTs and school personnel can collaborate to address children’s mental health needs. The findings from this study suggest that school personnel have to be educated about OT practitioners’ unique knowledge and skills related to providing school mental health services. Until teachers, parents, and administrators have a full understanding of the scope of OT practice, the role of school OTs may be marginalized.