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Transdisciplinary Approach - What Does It Mean?

Updated: Jan 29

Within the health and education setting, there are several approaches taken that best support those with therapy and learning needs. One such approach that is becoming increasingly used worldwide is the transdisciplinary approach to therapy. This requires several disciplines (e.g. occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, educational therapy, etc.) to come together to work on shared goals for the client or patient. This is achieved through a model of care where all professionals work in an integrated and connected way using a common plan, rather than that confined to their own discipline.

Each member of the team is responsible for ensuring their own area of expertise is carried out appropriately for the client in question. In earlier models of service delivery, each professional was qualified to administer assessments and conduct therapy treatments within the remit of their profession. This means that typically, in a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary team, a psychologist will not be doing speech therapy and an educational therapist will not be assessing gross motor function, which is the scope of the occupational therapist.

In a transdisciplinary team, the approach is to transcend the traditional borders of each discipline in order to upskill every team member to high quality, using a holistic perspective. After all, the human body, mind, and functioning of these, work in an integrated manner.

The trans-disciplinary approach allows for the dissemination and application of evidence-based theory and strategies so, for instance, the speech-language pathologist might recommend a child use pictures in all their therapies to support their communication and learning, not just in speech. As a result, that child’s occupational therapist and the educational therapist would also use pictures to support their work with the child to improve overall learning and communication. Or, one member of the team may be the case manager in charge of the client’s care plan and would be responsible for monitoring and reporting back progress for all areas of that individual’s growth, not just that within their own field.

This differs from the concept of interdisciplinary practice, where each team member only works on their specific area. In trans-disciplinary practice, the knowledge and skills are shared between the professionals in a way that allows the team to work more collaboratively for the ultimate benefit of the client.

Transdisciplinary Approach - What Does It Mean?

This integration approach is an important point of consideration for the future of therapy in that the dynamic of each setting will evolve from being a centre of individually-skilled professionals coming together, to a hive of multi-skilled professionals working under close supervision, utilizing therapies they have been upskilled in.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to this model of service delivery.

  • On the one hand, it allows for better outcomes in the holistic treatment of patients and means if one specific professional is unavailable the client does not go without treatment in any given area.

  • On the other hand, it blurs the lines of professional boundaries and allows overlap of professionals working outside of their traditional remit. This is dependent on a high level of trust from the perspective of the patient and the general public that the therapists have been upskilled to a superior level. It is also costly for the centers as intensive, high-quality training takes time and expense which many settings are simply not in a position to access.

However, the benefits appear to far outweigh the negatives in the long term, and therefore many of the leading educational and medical centres are adopting transdisciplinary practices for their settings.

What this looks like in the Allied Health field are small, specialized centres that place a large emphasis on staff’s quality professional development and collaborative practice. The client, ultimately, does not need to travel further afield to get access to services, also saving them time, money, and effort, in the short term and giving them access to a more comprehensive treatment plan that benefits them in the long term.

In conclusion, the move towards transdisciplinary practice is one that should be monitored and encouraged as there are many benefits for all involved. As smaller centers also take on this progressive approach to services, they improve the standard of options available for clients. Furthermore, they raise the standard of skill and knowledge for therapists and service providers, contributing to an environment that benefits society as a whole.


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