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  • Writer's pictureFaith Gallant

What is Occupational Therapy?

October is Occupational Therapy month. At NCCO our team of Occupational Therapists takes great pride in the work that we do. We work with our clients to co-create functional goals, and then through assessment of person, context, and occupation, we implement treatment strategies to help them work towards their goals. However, this is unlikely what comes to mind when you first hear “Occupational Therapist”. Often, individuals are quick to think our role exclusively includes returning to work or helping people find a career. In honour of Occupational Therapy month, NCCO wants to help spread awareness about the wonderful work Occupational Therapists do and bring light to what some of the common terms in our industry mean!

This year, the association of Canadian Occupational Therapy Regulatory Organizations developed a consolidated document outlining the Competencies for Occupational Therapists in Canada. The authors’ stated, “The commitment to developing a single competency document was grounded in the belief that this would clarify occupational therapy as a profession in Canada”. Evidently, the confusion of the role and purpose of Occupational Therapists appears to be widespread. The clarification of the competencies (the combination of the knowledge, skills, values, of Occupational Therapists) provide a single document, accessible by the public, to better understand how an Occupational Therapist can be an irreplicable support in achieving functional goals. This blog post will focus on providing context and examples of the first competency domain: Occupational Therapy Expertise!

The authors of the Competencies for Occupational Therapists in Canada define Occupational Therapy Expertise as the following:

“The unique expertise of occupational therapists is to analyze what people do and what they want or need to do, and help them to do it. Occupational therapists co-create approaches with their clients. They are mindful of people’s rights, needs, preferences, values, abilities, and environments. They work with clients to support their health and well-being.”

At NCCO, our Occupational Therapists begin by co-creating meaningful goals with their clients. This is typically done in the safe space of their home. The Occupational Therapist prioritizes keeping the client’s wants, interests, and values, at the forefront of the discussion. The result should be a list of achievable goals which focus on returning, at some capacity, to their meaningful occupations. It is important that in this context, occupation does not simply in mean work, but rather it refers to any daily activity the client would like to engage in. This can range from basic activities such as brushing their teeth, washing their face, or putting on socks, to complex activities such as cooking a meal, driving in their community, or attending a social engagement.

With goals created, our Occupational Therapists focus on using the client’s strengths and available resources of increase their occupational participation (also known as their engagement in meaningful activities), and ultimately achieve their goals. Strengths can include a client’s motivation to reach their goals, a supportive environment, creative thinking skills, or resilient characteristics, to name a few among many. While assessing the individual is undoubtedly important, the Occupational Therapist is also going to use occupational analysis skills to assess the intended occupation and environment. This will include identifying any barriers/obstacles for the individual and using their knowledge as an Occupational Therapist to co-create solutions with the client.

It is important to note, that by providing Occupational Therapy services in the home, our Occupational Therapists can complete the best occupational analysis for clients, by being in the environment where their occupations take place. For example, when completing a cooking assessment, the Occupational Therapist is able to observe environmental factors (i.e., height of the counters, location of the pots, amount of light in the kitchen) occupational factors (i.e., time of day meals are prepared, specific cultural dishes that are typically prepared) as well as individual factors. Completing this same assessment in a clinical setting, may result in some of these factors being missed.

With the occupational analysis complete, the Occupational Therapist again works with the client to develop an appropriate treatment plan. As holistic providers, Occupational Therapists consider physical (i.e., height of the counters), cognitive (i.e., remembering the pot is on the stove) and psycho-emotional (i.e., motivation to engage in complex meal preparation) barriers to occupational participation. This will play an important role in determining an appropriate treatment strategy. For example, setting reminders may work for an individual with memory challenges, while a home modification for lower counters may be needed for an individual with physical challenges.

Throughout this process, the Occupational Therapist should be considering the client’s occupational rights. This includes the client’s right to choose which occupations they wish to engage in without external pressure. They should be able to engage in these occupations without risk to their safety, dignity, or equity. This requires the Occupational Therapist create culturally safe relationships and to engage in anti-oppressive behaviour, including practicing with self-awareness and humility.

Learning about the role of Occupational Therapists can be overwhelming, especially when terminology is new and/or confusing. The goal of this post was to shine light on common terms used within Occupational Therapy and provide greater insight into the role and purpose of Occupational Therapy. If you would like to learn more about the competencies of Occupational Therapists, you can review the document put together by the Canadian Occupational Therapy Regulatory Organizations:

If you are interested in starting Occupational Therapy or would like to learn more, contact us an

Happy Occupational Therapy Month!


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