THE ART AND SCIENCE OF MOTIVATION: A THERAPIST’S GUIDE TO WORKING WITH CHILDREN edited by Jenny Ziviani, Anne E. Poulsen and Monica Cuskelly.

Reviewed by Seamus Ryan, PhD, Psychologist in Clinical Training, NUI Galway.

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Motivation Book Cover

The Art and Science of Motivation is a guide for therapists and practitioners who work with children in health and educational settings. Its specific focus is on children at risk of developmental disadvantage as a result of physical, developmental or social disabilities. The central aim of this book is to guide practitioners in their attempts to motivate children to engage with therapy. The target audience is practitioners in all professional disciplines involved in early intervention and school-age disability services. As the name of the book suggests, both practical advice and scientific evidence are provided for therapists, and it is in the former area that this book’s particular strengths lie.

The editors adopt self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan 1985, 2000) as a model within which to frame their exploration of practice issues related to motivating children. This theory posits that three basic psychological needs of children and their families must be met in order for successful engagement with therapy to be achieved. Firstly, children must have a sense of autonomy or control over the goals of therapy. Secondly, children’s feelings of relatedness or connectedness to their therapists and to others in their environment must be facilitated. Thirdly, children’s self-evaluation of their own competence and mastery over age-appropriate tasks should be strengthened. The book provides an overview of the research suggesting that the motivation of children to engage with therapy increases when these three needs are met by practitioners.

The book includes a plethora of therapeutic techniques which may assist practitioners in enhancing motivation, through the facilitation of the child’s need for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. These techniques are then brought to life by the useful inclusion of numerous clinical vignettes which explore the application of these techniques.

I found the structure of this book to be more coherent than many edited volumes I have come across. Many such volumes contain stand-alone chapters written by a number of authors which lack the flow required to convey a coherent overall message. However, each of the chapters in this volume involves at least one of the three editors as co-author. This ensures the maintenance of a coherent focus and a logical structure throughout.

My main criticism of this book is that the model of self-determination theory is given a large amount of attention, without sufficiently exploring the usefulness of other models and factors which might contribute to the motivation of children in therapy. However, self-determination theory does represent a broad model covering a range of factors which contribute to motivation. The many associated practical techniques provided in this handbook will certainly provide a useful starting-point for practitioners who wish to enhance their skills related to engaging children in their therapeutic work.

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