Occupational therapists (OTs) are healthcare professionals who focus on offering clients solutions to challenges arising from injury, illness, and disability. Their primary goal is to help you, or your loved ones perform tasks, or occupations, related to everyday self-care as well as professional and recreational activities in order to live full, happy lives. OTs work with a wide variety of clients in every age group, specializing in countless fields, and deliver custom human-centric plans for treatment tailored to individuals and their environment.

Top Quality Care

Gertrude Robertson is a seasoned OT working in Brooklyn, New York. One of the questions she often gets is what to expect from an occupational therapist. The first thing I tell clients is that they should always expect safe, ethical, and quality care, she says. No matter where you are in the United States or Canada, OTs must be licensed in order to practice. Make sure they are registered with local regulators to ensure you are receiving treatment that meets the standards of care in your region.

Achievable Goals

All clients should be aware that they have rights related to their treatment, says Robertson. At any time, a client can withdraw their consent to treatment. It is important to know that, as the client or caregiver, you are in control of the process. Do not be afraid to ask questions or request clarification at any point. Part of the role of an OT is to identify achievable goals and provide a clear, safe, and ethical course of treatment to achieve those goals. If you are not comfortable or do not understand an aspect of the plan, speak directly with your OT. Remember, they have a professional responsibility to act in your best interest.

Your OT may require an initial meeting in order to assess your situation and get to know you and your goals before explaining their plan of action. Because occupational therapy is highly individualized, do not be surprised if your OT asks you many questions, explains Robertson. They will want to know what activities are important to you and how they are or have become challenging for you. Depending on the individual, treatment can address things as simple as brushing your teeth to as complex as battling mental health concerns. There is no occupation too small or too big for a professional and licensed OT.

Comprehensive Strategies

It is important to ask questions about the process when you first begin working with your OT, says Robertson. After the initial assessments they should explain what they can help you or your loved ones with and how they intend to do that. They should provide you with a clear strategy for treatment, which should include an estimate for the frequency of visits and follow-ups. They should be open and forthcoming with the type of results they hope to achieve and an approximate timeline for reaching those goals. Other details such as length of visits, payment, and availability should also be addressed early on.

As you progress through treatment, it is possible that new challenges will arise that can delay results or additional areas for improvement may be identified. For example, an OT may be working with a child with autism to help him or her cope with a classroom setting. Over the course of the treatment plan, the child develops aggressive behaviour towards the teacher or other students. The OT should be ready to pivot their plan in order to understand the cause and address this new behavior with coping mechanism, adaptive tools, and therapy. Prepare to have an open dialogue with your OT about your course of treatment, progress, and needs, says Robertson. Plans can change, so make sure you have open lines of communication with your OT throughout the process.

A Course of Treatment

In addition to identifying your goals and helping you achieve them through a targeted course of treatment, your OT should be knowledgeable about other resources in your community. This can include programs for those experiencing similar situations, such as recovering from surgery, support and social groups for those living with disabilities, and local resources for adaptive technology such as wheelchairs or stabilizing cutlery. As part of your plan of care, they are likely to suggest investigating additional support and can introduce you to these sources as part of your treatment. OTs are invested in helping their clients live fulfilling lives, which includes social and support networks beyond the services they provide. Working in tandem with your medical team and community resources, you can expect your OT to be committed to your welfare in a holistic manner.

Gertrude Robertson suggests educating yourself as much as possible about occupational therapy through local associations and governing agencies in your state or province. Being informed about your rights as a patient in any healthcare situation can only benefit you. In her own practice in Brooklyn, Robertson ensures her clients are provided with information about the profession and their rights as a client/patient at the beginning of treatment so that they feel empowered and in control from the outset. Especially when working with someone who has a sudden change in their ability to interact with their environment due to injury or illness, for example, reminding them of their agency and control over a situation can be an important step towards healing, she says.

OTs are often compassionate individuals invested in the success of their clients. But no matter who they are, they should always provide safe, ethical, and competent treatment in line with the accepted standards of care in your region. You should expect your OT to always act in your best interest and provide clear goals and plans of treatment with an open line of communication. Remember that you are in control, says Robertson, and can withdraw consent at any time. If ever in doubt, speak to your OT or reach out to your local regulator.