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Ph.D. in Therapeutic Science

Who is this program for?

Our program is designed for motivated students with a research-focused interest in exploring the intersection of activities, disability and quality of life through an integrated, interdisciplinary course of study.

Our applicants typically have already obtained a research-based academic or professional master's degree and may have a professional credential or identity (e.g., occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, licensed clinical social worker, clinical psychologist, special educator).

Many of our current therapeutic science Ph.D. students continue to work in their chosen field while enrolled in the program. We support these different approaches to learning by offering evening and online classes.

Program Overview

In this program, we evaluate the connection between impairment, activity, social participation and other factors to understand the impact of disability on an individual's life. We strategically approach options for improving each person's engagement with his or her physical, social and psychological environments.

Given these complex and changing variables, an interdisciplinary approach creates effective ways to produce systematic knowledge leading to improvements in quality of life for individuals with disabilities and for their families. This approach requires a "melding of knowledge from several disciplines to understand the fundamental nature of the enabling-disabling process, that is, how disabling conditions develop, progress, and reverse, and how biological, behavioral, and environmental factors can affect these transitions" (Brant & Pope, 1997, p.4).

Combining evidence-based knowledge with an informed understanding of an individual’s goals and contexts can produce strategies to prevent or eliminate functional impairments.

Within the program, you will study and implement processes of knowledge generation and translate these into practice. This insight and skill set will fundamentally enhance your approach to a professional career supporting people with disabilities, their families and their communities.

Areas of Study

Explore some examples of the research and exploration underway in our program:

  • Sensory processing in daily life.
  • Principles of universal design and other strategies to support aging-in-place.
  • Exploration of factors contributing to successful interprofessional education and practice.
  • Producing evidence to support integrated and novel approaches to children and families in community settings, such as public schools, early intervention programs, daycare centers, and the homes of families.
  • Response to Intervention, teacher-therapist collaboration, sensory processing, and self-regulation in the early childhood classroom.
  • Contextual influences on participation and self-determination for people with disabilities.
  • Application of interdisciplinary, evidence-based research to early intervention practices designed for infants and toddlers.
  • Adopting and implementing telecommunication technology in support of fieldwork educators and students.
  • Study of the health, social, and behavioral benefits offered by recreation participation, particularly for vulnerable populations.
  • Developing and refining strategies to support people across the lifespan as they experience role transitions.
  • The role of the occupational therapist as a consultant and as a member of interprofessional teams in health care, schools, and community settings.
  • Biobehavioral approaches characterizing early development of children with autism spectrum disorder in the context of their families to inform approaches to early intervention.
  • Biophysical and social risk factors for concussions and other causes of traumatic brain injury.
  • Accommodation models for community participation.


KU's doctoral degree program in therapeutic science does not provide eligibility for professional licensing for employment. As a research program, credentialing for health care practice does not apply to this program.

"Recreational therapy is considered a 'discovery career' as most people having never heard of it. Being passionate about my own recreational pursuits, particularly swimming, and having early contact with individuals with disabilities helped me discover recreational therapy. As I engaged in clinical practice, I met challenges that compelled me to pursue a master’s degree and then a therapeutic science Ph.D. Being both a graduate and faculty of the program positioned me well to describe the value and unique contributions of the therapeutic science program. With my Ph.D. in Therapeutic Science, I was able to build clinical practice, research and teaching around a recreational activity that I love."
KU School of Health Professions

Occupational Therapy Education
KU Medical Center

3901 Rainbow Blvd  MS2003
Kansas City, KS 66160
913-588-7195 • 711 TTY