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Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Jan;95(1 Suppl):S17-23.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2013.02.029.

Contributions of treatment theory and enablement theory to rehabilitation research and practice.

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Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Elkins Park, PA. Electronic address:


Scientific theory is crucial to the advancement of clinical research. The breadth of rehabilitation treatment requires that many different theoretical perspectives be incorporated into the design and testing of treatment interventions. In this article, the 2 broad classes of theory relevant to rehabilitation research and practice are defined, and their distinct but complementary contributions to research and clinical practice are explored. These theory classes are referred to as treatment theories (theories about how to effect change in clinical targets) and enablement theories (theories about how changes in a proximal clinical target will influence distal clinical aims). Treatment theories provide the tools for inducing clinical change but do not specify how far reaching the ultimate impact of the change will be. Enablement theories model the impact of changes on other areas of function but provide no insight as to how treatment can create functional change. Treatment theories are more critical in the early stages of treatment development, whereas enablement theories become increasingly relevant in specifying the clinical significance and practical effectiveness of more mature treatments. Understanding the differences in the questions these theory classes address and how to combine their insights is crucial for effective research development and clinical practice.


ICF; International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health; Rehabilitation; Translational medical research

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