I went out for dinner with two close friends last night, and when talking about work one said “you’re a bit like Chandler from Friends.. No one really knows what your job is!”
I’ve been a qualified Occupational Therapist for over three years (and a MSc OT student for two years before that), and sometimes I still stumble when trying to explain what I do.
A simple definition would be – “I support people with health difficulties toward recovery with the use of meaningful occupation (activities)”. But in reality it’s so much more than that.
I remember one day a Health Care Assistant I’d worked with for a while was surprised to discover that I actually needed a degree to be an OT. His reflection “well you just play games with them and stuff?”.
And yes, there are occasions when I may play a game with a patient, but this is also called a leisure occupation, and necessary for health.
Not only that, but I’m not just playing with them. I assessing the following:
▪️Do they have the necessary fine and gross motor skills to participate?
▪️Can the sequence the activity?
▪️Do they demonstrate planning and timing?
▪️Do they have hand/eye coordination?
▪️How long is their activity tolerance?
▪️Can they retain and adhere to the rules of the game?
▪️Do they have appropriate emotional response to winning/losing?
▪️Are they supportive to other players?
▪️Can the communicate successfully (both verbal and non verbal)?
▪️Are they more likely to talk about difficult subjects while engaged in an activity, than in a traditional 1:1?
▪️Are they confident in making decisions?
▪️How does the environment influence their ability to engage in the activity?
▪️Do they experience side effects from medication which could impair their abilities?
These are just some of the things I’m looking at while assessing someone’s occupational performance. And if the session takes place in the community add in road safety awareness, public transport and money handling skills too.
All this information I put into clinical notes and reports. Plus I’ll feed it back in care planning and risk assessment meetings. Often the admin side of things takes significantly longer than activity itself.
From this I’ll develop a plan, in collaboration with the patient, to support them to develop in areas where they currently struggle and help them achieve what they want in life.
So in response to the Health Care Assistant who queried the need for a degree I wanted to scream “of course you need a degree to become an OT! In fact, I’ve got a masters!” But I didn’t, I just smiled and said “yes”.
OTs don’t become OTs for prestige. When you enter the profession you know very few people will know or understand what you do. You do it because you genuinely care about other people, and want to help in a way that really matters to them.