Our OT Identity

In celebration of World OT Day, we are discussing the Global Identity of Occupational Therapy. It's an interesting topic since there has been a lot of discussion about our national OT identity with the approaching Centennial. I think the best thing that I can share for this topic is my summary of two of the best AOTA sessions from the 2011 conference (and maybe from ever).

Last spring, there were two talks that best fit with the presidential address and stood out as completely awesome. One was "OT Survivor: Protecting Your Turf in a Competitive Healthcare Market" by Pam Toto and the other was "Practicing Authentic OT: Strategies for Becoming a Reflective and Reflexive Practitioner" by Debbie Amini. These ladies are both well recognized in the field. Energy was definitely palpable in both rooms, and I even got to meet (again) Suzanne Peloquin during one session. (If a Slagle lecturer shows up in your room- you know the topic is superb!) By discussing what was reviewed in these sessions, I think we can get great input into our OT Identity.

"What is occupational therapy?"

How often do we hear those words?! Yet Toto points out that each OT area has its own definition. What I do on a daily basis in the school system is nothing like what I used to do in the hospital and that would look nothing like the life of a hand therapist. Even within the hospital, my practice could vary widely from the NICU to the Neuro ICU to the orthopedic floor and so on ad nauseum. Toto said this was like blind men describing an elephant- we tend to describe our practice in a reductionist way of what we regularly do, sometimes missing the big picture of OT. This can lead to confusion from consumers, referrers, and payors. Amini points out that if we want to achieve the Centennial Vision goal of a consistent recognizable image, we much EACH take it as a personal responsibility. The "Authentic" version of OT is client centered and occupation based, with occupation as both an outcome and a treatment. Amini pointed out that this is often an espoused belief of practitioners, but not necessarily an enacted one.

A person may not even realize that they aren't enacting their beliefs until there is an additional level of reflection involved. Amini described reflection as thinking and critically examining yourself, skills, and practice. Reflexive practice takes reflection further by then comparing reflected behavior to espoused beliefs, determine any incongruence, and then act to change the behavior or the belief. This process can be done by personal journaling, mentoring, using the AOTA professional development tool, creating a portfolio, or joining a community of practice. Toto states that one of the best ways to advocate for OT is to practice consistency in areas you address, services provided, assessments and intervention approaches. In doing so, you create an image that others will remember and identify as occupational therapy.

There are perceived challenges to authentic and reflective practice. Amini includes corporate policies, reimbursement, productivity, supply cost, time, and decreased support from peers or supervisors. Toto described threats to our practice: complacency in our documentation (failing to specify our unique practice), viewing OT as a job instead of a career, moving from ADLs to preparatory/adjunctive treatments, accepting the status quo (including that laid down by the boss), and allowing any other service to be a "gatekeeper" to OT. Don't allow other professions to represent you. If your services are special and unique, NO ONE can say OT isn't needed! Remember that documentation is important. It's hard to remember that when you're writing 6 evals a day and don't think they're ever read. But think back to being in school when you learned about how each note was a legal document, the only proof of what really happened with a client. Toto discussed that it is important to use our practice framework language and reference evidence in our documentation. The most skilled part of a person's OT session may not have been the hands-on portion, but the clinical reasoning and decision making you engaged in. And speaking of clinical reasoning- don't short sell our value by saying that it's just "common sense!"

Toto discussed at length the importance of advocacy for OT. We're great at being advocates for our clients to get the best care, but more reluctant to stand up for ourselves. There are a limited number of healthcare dollars, and other groups would love to take our share. We can't be timid and "nice." As Dr. Clark said in her presidential address, if you let others take OT for granted, "it's not playing nice, it's playing dead!" Remember, there is no mysterious "they" who will advocate for you. AOTA and your state association may be able to take action on a government level to defend OT, but without your membership, they are hard pressed to do so. And they certainly won't be coming to all your referrers and coworkers and asserting the OT scope of practice. That falls to each of us. Amini reminds us (especially those AOTA members) to use the official documents as leverage during advocacy efforts.

Toto described that there are two ways to make light- you can be the candle or the mirror. When your client is successful, they need to understand who you were, what you did, and how your intervention has impacted their occupations and participation in life. Discuss and hand out goals. Hand out a business card. Make sure that you identify yourself as an Occupational Therapist and not just an OT or OTA. Have several elevator pitches for different audiences that include evidence. Most importantly, let everyone know the good that you do, so that others may receive your awesome authentic services.

I hope you find these points useful for your daily practice. The field of Occupational Therapy and our consumers will definitely benefit from authentic practitioners. Let's all strive for that in the coming week.

1 comment:

Pamela E. Toto, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA said...

I can't think of a more satisfying moment than while reading your post. I'm glad you got so much out of my presentation, and its great to know that we have you on board as part of the OT "army" of advocates for our wonderful profession. Thank you for your kind words!
Pam Toto