The challenges of holding on to your OT roots

The Paper(s)
Gustafsson, L., Molineux, M., & Bennett, S. (2014). Contemporary occupational therapy practice: The challenges of being evidence based and philosophically congruent. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 61(2), 121-123.

The Problem
Holding onto your roots in occupation is a real challenge in today’s workplace.

It's been an issue for years, but as pressures to measure and justify your OT work increase each year, this is especially true for your practice today.

What are some key challenges and solutions to stay connected to your occupational based practice today?


Evidenced based practice is rarely specific to OT

When you look closely at today’s research you start to see a real challenge: Only a very small proportion of all research evidence out there is directly linked to an occupational perspective.

Most (>99%) doesn’t have an occupational based focus. In fact, there are very few research studies that will tell you what to do or specifically guide you through how to do it.

This means that you have to translate the findings of non-OT specific research into an occupational based approach. This is challenging to begin with, and with limited time and support to do this on the job, it’s especially hard.

Our Scope is really broad, and we define ourselves in such different ways!

Ask 10 occupational therapists to define occupational therapy and you will probably get 10 different answers.  This speaks to a key strength, but also a key challenge: We all express our professional identity and philosophy in individual ways.  

If we define our scope of practice to include any intervention that aims to improve occupational performance and engagement then we can easily run into confusion as we overlap with other professions. People then don’t really get what makes us unique.

Put on your ‘occupational thinking hat’: 
Keeping up to date and integrating research evidence into practice is critical, but it must be done in a meaningful way.  Put on your imaginary ‘occupational thinking hat’ when reading research by asking yourself any of these 4 questions:

  1. How specifically does this research inform my practice as an OT?

  2. Am I (as an OT) the best person to provide this intervention?

  3. How can I do this assessment, model, or intervention in an meaningful occupation-based way with my patient? 

  4. How can I show others in my workplace that even though it’s not OT specific research, I’ve made it OT specific through the way I’m using it?

*Write these out and stick it to the wall on the side of your desk, or put it in your main practice binder or computer to remind yourself!

Occupation as means

Maybe the simplest way to reconnect with occupational based practice and provide a unique OT contribution in your workplace is to practice with an “occupation-as-means” mentality.  

This will help you find more clarity in your practice, and face a lot less confusion. Don’t believe us?  

Take the one month ‘Occupational as means challenge’: For one month commit to practicing solely with occupation-as-means principles for all your patients and decide for yourself!

This means that for every patient, you stick to the actual use of identified, meaningful occupations in a therapeutic way (as opposed to tasks or functional activities).

P.S  We recommend doing the one month ‘Occupation as Means’ challenge with another OT friend of yours. It can be a challenge, but many OTs have found this super rewarding and re-inspiring in their work. So find a motivated OT you care about and give it a shot!