How to See Like an OT

OT Practice Miss Awesomeness Tea Making
This infographic explaining what an OT “sees” during a seemingly simple intervention was in the Jan. 19 OT Practice magazine. (Infographic from AOTA Inc.)

Last week I was reading the January issue of AOTA’s OT Practice magazine when I came across a little “Social Media Spotlight” shout-out about the wonderful OT Miss Awesomeness. It focused on an insightful blog post she wrote in December describing how although it may look like an OT is not doing much with a client during a therapy session, in reality he or she is thinking about a million things related to the client’s function.

As Miss Awesomeness describes in her post – and as AOTA describes in a cool infographic they made after she published the post! – the OT is not just relaxing as a client is cooking or doing another task. He or she is performing functional analysis and observing the environment, context, and client to determine where or if there is a breakdown that causes the client to be unsuccessful in their attempts to engage in the occupation.

 In her blog post, Miss Awesomeness used the example of a therapist who was observing a client making tea. During the session, he discovered that although his elderly client was able to lift four pound weights during their therapy sessions, this ability did not translate into functionality during the cooking activity. Although the woman was able to lift the weights, she was not able to lift the heavy bag of sugar from an overhead cabinet in the kitchen with one hand (the scenario in which she would be accessing the sugar in her home). For me, this was an important post to read because it helped me better understand the skill and value of what occupational therapists do while working with their clients.

It was a great, well-written post, and a great example of how an OT (or OT student, as the case may be!) should always keep functionality in mind when working with clients or planning sessions. If a therapist fails to consider the context in which a client performs an occupation, he or she risks providing unhelpful interventions that will not support the client’s successful return to everyday living. It would be like an athletic trainer working with a person to help him learn how to mountain bike on a heavily wooded trail by using a stationary bike in the gym! Although there are some similarities between the two scenarios, it would make much more sense for the trainer to observe the client in the trail setting and make recommendations based on how they performed there, right?

As I continue to complete my Fieldwork I and see more therapists at work, I can apply knowledge like this to what I am seeing. Although I am always trying to consider how the different tools in an OT’s tool belt are used for treatment, I will also keep in mind the importance of using these tools in a setting and context that is most helpful for the client!


Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: SAMHSA Listening Session and Comments (November 12-26, 2014)


In case you didn’t know, occupational therapists currently play an important role in helping people with mental health problems and psychiatric disabilities. They work in community-based, outpatient, inpatient, and other settings to help people living with mental health concerns learn how to best complete the activities they need and want to do.

Although there are some occupational therapists helping some people with mental health issues, there is not nearly enough supply to meet the demand. In the past, OT has not really been recognized as a profession that is equipped to meet the needs of clients with mental health problems, but this could all change in the very near future!

On November 12, 2014, there is going to be a listening session to Support Occupational Therapy’s Inclusion in New Community Mental Health Services. It is vital that as many occupational therapy students, practitioners, assistants and supporters as possible get involved and comment on the session in order to show their support and advocate for occupational therapy services that could be of great benefit to people who access mental health services in the United States. Part of being a successful therapist is being an advocate for the profession, and what better way to promote OT than participating in this crucial political event!

Here is the background on the event, straight from AOTA’s website:

In April, Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (H.R. 4302), which established a “Demonstration Program to Improve Community Mental Health Services.” This demonstration program will expand access to quality mental and behavioral health services by establishing federally certified community behavioral health clinics (CBHCs). The demonstration will initially establish CBHCs in eight states through a competitive process, but could eventually CBHCs could be in all 50 states.

This fall, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will be writing the rules that define what mental health services and supports will be provided by these federally supported CBHCs. SAMHSA will be holding a listening session to help them establish the criteria for staffing, services, payment and coordination of care at the CBHCs.

For those not able to attend and comment in person, there is also the opportunity to provide comments in writing. Written comments will be considered just as important as verbal comments during the listening session.

We have been told by SAMHSA that it is important to have a strong demonstration of support for the inclusion of occupational therapy through comments and at this listening session. The development of these criteria is a watershed moment for occupational therapy’s inclusion in quality, community-based mental health services.

And according to SAMHSA:

By September 1, 2015, criteria will be published for state certification of participating clinics and guidance issued for participating states’ establishment of a demonstration Prospective Payment System for services. SAMHSA has the overall lead for the program and is responsible for the establishment of the criteria for the behavioral health clinics.

It is currently too late to register to attend or provide verbal commentary, but listeners and contributors will have until November 26 to submit written commentary, which will be considered just as important as the spoken comments listeners make. Unfortunately, I will be working for half of the day during the session, but I plan to wake up early and catch as much of it as I can before I have to leave!


At this point in history, occupational therapy has a chance to be included in landmark federal legislation that will have a great impact on American people living with mental health problems. It is absolutely crucial that we make our voices heard and take the time to support AOTA and the future of the profession in this endeavor, and I want to be sure I do my part!

AOTA has links to several resources that will prepare you to leave a well-written, OT-endorsing comment that will be reviewed by the SAMHSA team. Although the main (and most important) comment-writing document is for “members only,” there are still other helpful links here.

In case you don’t have time to click around and want to get straight to writing, I have compiled a brief list of tips and information from the AOTA and SAMHSA websites in order to streamline the process and hopefully make it that much easier for you to participate! (No excuses!)

Writing Comments

If you are an AOTA member, you can login and view their page of comment-writing tips here:

In case you are not an AOTA member, I have included several of their most relevant and important points here to help you write commentary for the SAMHSA session. All information below is from the AOTA.

  • SAMHSA has provided “guiding questions” in a worksheet format to help structure your comments. Consider using the SAMHSA-provided worksheet, or write a letter using the worksheet as your guide.
  • Consider submitting comments on behalf of a larger group of occupational therapy practitioners. One letter could be sent from a facility, state association, or simply have a list of signatures from interested practitioners. The comments will count as if submitted by each individual, and this will make less work for SAMHSA. If submitting on behalf of a facility or association, be sure to mention how many practitioners or clients it represents. Get signatures from non-occupational therapy practitioners if relevant and possible.
  • Comment on as many of the guiding questions that you think are relevant, or on those of which you have expertise.
  • Instead of synthesizing your overall thoughts, comment on each question individually, even if this means repeating something you have already written. Comments will be collated separately for each section.

If you do write a comment, according to AOTA the most important thing to include is the following: Skilled occupational therapy should be a service available to clients on-site in CBHCs and occupational therapy practitioners (with their unique skill set that you will describe in your letter) should be a part of the staffing requirements.

Sending Comments

Each submission must include the Agency name (SAMHSA) and the docket number (2014-25822) for this notice.

Comments are due by 5 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday, November 26, 2014.

  • Email is probably easiest. Send your comments to
  • If you would like to send comments by mail, hand delivery or fax, here’s how:
    • Mail: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 Choke Cherry Road, Rockville, MD 20857, Room 6-1019. Attn: Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Comments
    • Hand Delivery or Courier: 1 Choke Cherry Road, Rockville, MD 20857, Room 6-1019 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.
    • Fax: 1-240-276-1930 Attn: Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Comments

Please help make a positive difference in the future of Americans living with mental health concerns and write a comment for SAMHSA by November 26! And please comment and let me know if you do!

One Week Until World OT Day 2014!

It’s another Monday, but it’s not just any Monday – it’s the Monday before World OT Day 2014! This World OT Day, there are going to be so many amazing events around the world, and in this blog post I’m giving you lots of information about the event itself, this year’s global OT virtual exchange, the WFOT and how YOU can get involved!

Happy World OT Day 2014! (
Happy World OT Day 2014! (

What is World OT Day?

World Occupational Therapy Day is the opportunity to heighten the visibility of the profession’s development work and to promote the activities of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) locally, nationally, and internationally.” (Google)

It’s also a great time to spread the word at your college, among your colleagues and in the community about the amazing work that occupational therapists do! Not that you shouldn’t be doing that every day, but you know what I mean. 😀

What is the World Federation of Occupational Therapists?

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Increasing OT’s Role in Healthcare for Veterans


One of the goals I have for my career is to do occupational therapy with returning veterans and wounded warriors. I hope to work in a Warrior Transition Unit where I can utilize my occupational therapy training and incorporate my interests in career planning, physical medicine and psychology to help American soldiers who are returning home maintain their mental and physical health and adjust successfully to civilian life.

So I was especially intrigued when I came across a great article on the AOTA blog written by Elizabeth Hart, an occupational therapy student at UNC Chapel Hill. She was able to attend a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing titled “Service should not lead to suicide: Access to VA’s Mental Health Care.” At this committee meeting, parents of veterans who committed suicide after returning from deployment and a retired veteran who works with the Wounded Warrior Project testified about the difficulty veterans have accessing mental health care and other vital services through the VA healthcare system. Their goal was to inform our political leaders and policymakers about the systemic and policy changes that need to be made in order to prevent similar incidents and provide better primary mental and physical health care to veterans.

In her article, Hart not only outlined the multiple issues the panelists discussed at the hearing, but she also described why occupational therapists are so well-suited to help meet many veterans’ unfulfilled healthcare needs. She does a fantastic job of explaining how occupational therapists are often-neglected but important providers of physical and psychological treatments for veterans, including:

  • Supporting soldiers’ successful transition from active duty to civilian life by helping them “gain the skills and tools they need to participate in their day-to-day routines” and “reestablish their own roles within their communities”
  • Utilizing their holistic training and background to “address both physical and psychological injuries” as integral members of interdisciplinary healthcare teams
  • Acting as mental and behavioral health professionals to help increase veterans’ access to often inaccessible mental health services
  • Providing “non-pharmacological treatment options” for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially through the use of occupations like “gardening, motorcycle riding and playing guitar”

Ultimately, Hart’s article provided a great overview of the issues that exist for veterans in the current healthcare system and the opportunities OT’s have to help resolve them, and I highly recommend that you read it in its entirety here. This is an issue I care passionately about, and I hope that students, practitioners and AOTA continue to advocate for the role of occupational therapy in increasingly diverse settings.

OT in the Media: In Need of a Better Article!

This blog post is one that I’ve been wanting write for a very long time – the article I’m analyzing was published over a month ago, but I’ve been too busy to get my thoughts down and express them in the way I’d like until now. This post contains my thoughts on an article titled “Healthy Living: Occupational Therapy Takes ‘Wholistic’ Approach” by occupational therapist Jeffrey Sheridan. The article’s target audience is the general public, and its goal is to explain what occupational therapy is, what it is not and who can benefit from it. It is pretty brief, so please give it a quick read before continuing on to my critique!

I would like to state first and foremost that my goal in writing this article critique is not to criticize the writer himself – Mr. Sheridan is doing a great thing in trying to get the word out about our field! However, I think his article as a whole does not provide a very clear, compelling or useful explanation of occupational therapy for the general public. I realize that he was most likely working with a word limit imposed by an editor, and so he couldn’t fit in everything he might have liked to say. Even so, I think that Mr. Sheridan’s article could be a much better – and ironically, a much more “wholistic” – explanation of the field of occupational therapy.

The following is my critique of some of the article’s main points and my suggestions for how Mr. Sheridan and future writers of pieces about occupational therapy can make their writings more compelling, informative and accurate.

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