Are occupational therapists “helpers of other professions?”
“you help out other therapists, right?”
Many clients and the public believe that occupational therapists help out other therapists such as physical therapists. This is true in a sense, just as how nurses may “help” doctors, but instead of viewing the system as a hierarchy, it is more like a web of connections that work together. The same could be said to how physical therapists help out occupational therapists when they refer them for interventions such as activities of daily life (ADL) remediation.
In truth, occupational therapists, as well as other therapists, all work together in an interdisciplinary team. Depending on the client, setting, their condition, environment, and other factors, a varying amount of professionals may be involved in the care and goals of the client.
In a mental health setting, occupational therapists play an important role in education, training, remediation, goal setting, restoring the prior levels of function and engagement in meaningful activities such as socialization, return to work, school, productivity, or even leisure due to mental illnesses such as depression. They work with physicians, psychiatrists, counselors, families to provide a holistic approach to care.
“Occupational therapy maximizes health, well-being, and quality of life for all people, populations, and communities through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living.” – AOTA
With physical disabilities, occupational therapists play a role in regaining function in daily activities (eating, toileting, dressing, bathing, grooming). If a client is independent in ADLs, occupational therapists set goals along with clients to achieve engagement in productivity and leisure. This may include instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) such as cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, managing the household, care for pets, and finances. Leisurely activities may include what interests and the client finds engaging to them such as gardening, reading, golfing, playing computer games, etc. An occupational therapist works with the client to find creative ways to overcome physical or environmental barriers to participate in these activities. The value of what occupational therapists can provide is actual practice and training in the natural environment instead of just doing exercises for strengthening, for example.
- CNAs may help nurses.
- COTA/OTAs (occupational therapy assistants) are the ones who work together and assist occupational therapists.
This is not to say that other disciplines do not do something similar to what occupational therapists do in terms of function. For example, a physical therapist may assist or promote toileting in the bathroom, or a speech-language pathologist may practice sentences with a client in a distracting environment, just as an occupational therapist would as well. But each of the profession’s focus and goals are different and there is some overlap, just as there is between nurses and doctors. While therapists and other professions do may all seem “simple” or similar to a bystander, the focus and goals are different. Overall, they all work together to promote the tailored plan of care of each client and what their strengths, barriers, personalities, and goals are prior to discharge.
Who occupational therapists and assistants do help are their clients – to regain their independence and to live healthy lives spiritually, physically, and mentally.