Even after practicing occupational therapy in Canada for 11 years, I still have a hard time defining what I do in one sentence. The profession of Occupational Therapy (OT) has been around since the First World War, as we provided wives of husbands, who were off at war, the skills to make them employable in previously male dominated industries. We also assisted the injured soldiers with relearning their "activities of daily living" (a term adopted by the profession to describe all tasks related to self-care, productivity and leisure).
Since then, the profession, which has grown worldwide, includes rehabilitative therapy for people living with disability throughout the lifespan, from infancy to death. OT's can specialize in a variety of practice areas including the treatment of clients with Mental Health conditions, orthopaedic injuries, spinal cord and brain injuries, the science of Ergonomics and the effects on people, acute hand injury intervention, neonatal care and much more. Through education and skill building we teach injury prevention techniques at work and home, which many companies and groups are benefiting from.
Most Canadian OT's are now graduating from a Master’s Program in schools of Medical Rehabilitation within the faculty of Medicine, along with other allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists. Our academic credibility is supported by the vast amount of research that comes from the profession of many hats, making strong contributions to the medical research community. For more information about the profession, please visit the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy at http://www.caot.ca
It might seem surprising that most insurance companies do not recognize OT as a basic insurable service, as they do with Massage Therapists, Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and other allied health professionals. Some insurance companies have included OT in their extended health packages, but often these limit coverage to one visit per year or the equivalent in maximum limits. The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists have been fighting the battle for many years to get the recognition we deserve in the eyes of the insurance companies, with only minimal success.
In speaking with insurance companies locally, it is clear that their members are not asking for the services OT's provide, unless they have a family member with a disability or they themselves have been injured. Unfortunately, like any other insurance coverage, you many only see the value in it following a loss, like house insurance if your house burns down. These insurance companies only include services the majority of their members are requesting they cover.
We need to do a better job, at least in Canada, to educate people about how occupational therapy can help people following an injury, medical diagnoses, or in later life when the physical changes with aging affect mobility and independence. People need to start requesting that their insurance providers cover the services that they or their family member may urgently need one day. We also need to do a better job of marketing the profession. You have seen commercials for Physiotherapy and Chiropractors, but have you ever seen a commercial about Occupational Therapy? Instead of blaming my association for not putting enough resources into marketing and advocating our profession, I am doing my part to spread the word. OT's are building skills for living, and its time everyone knew what we do and how we can help them.
Here is my best stab at a one sentence definition of what an occupational therapist does: "Helping people to be as healthy and independent as possible in all areas of living, at home, work and play, throughout the lifespan." I would love to hear how you define what OT is or how it has helped you, a friend or family member. I will post a collection of definitions titled "What OT Means to Me" that can be used in our national campaign to have OT recognized by the majority of insurance companies as a basic insurable service.
Marnie Courage, OT Reg (OT)