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April is Occupational Therapy Month!

By Shannen Coley, MS, OTR/L, @shannenmarie_ot

April is Occupational Therapy Month in the United States.

Shannen Coley, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist and a dual Landau/Urbane ambassador, is sharing a few concepts about the occupational therapy profession as well as how she leads an occupational therapy Instagram advocacy campaign called #ABCsofOT to promote professional visibility to celebrate OT Month.

What is occupational therapy in a nutshell?

Occupational therapy is an art and science, evidence-based healthcare profession that helps people across the lifespan (neonate to oldest-old) participate in their occupations (everyday activities that are meaningful or necessary). Occupational therapy practitioners care about your day-to-day and are skilled task analyzers who provide either retraining for skills lost due to injury, illness, or diagnosis, or assist in the training of new skills altogether. Occupational therapy was founded on holistic principles and, therefore, focuses on the big picture in mind when providing care to their patients.

What are occupational therapy practitioners?

Occupational therapy practitioners is the term that is used to describe occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. In simple terms, occupational therapists perform evaluations and clinical assessments, create the intervention plan, perform reassessments, and are responsible for discharge planning. Occupational therapists supervise occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapy assistants help carry out the intervention plan and assist in discharge recommendation planning.

  • Occupational Therapists: at minimum complete an entry-level Master or Doctoral level degree + must pass the NBCOT board exam

  • Occupational Therapy Assistants: at minimum complete an Associate’s degree + must pass the NBCOT board exam

But I don’t need a job!!!!

Occupations = valued occupations. Our lives consist of occupations from the time we are babies (primary occupations include sleeping and eating) to young children (with occupations of learning and playing to promote developmental skills) to adults (with occupations that may include child-rearing, working, and maintaining a household) to older retired adults (with occupations geared toward participating leisure). The day-to-day tasks-- yes, those are occupations, and yes-- there is a healthcare profession that exists to support you in these roles. If you become injured or ill after a life event and experience role disruption or decreased ability to engage in these activities, ask for an occupational therapy referral STAT!

Where do occupational therapy practitioners work?

Occupational therapy can be found in a plethora of settings some of which you may traditionally think of such as in a hospital or outpatient clinic or your home or a skilled nursing facility or elementary schools, but can also be found in less traditional settings and roles such as in research, optometry clinics (low vision therapy), or entrepreneurial settings and so much more.

Is occupational therapy a form of physical therapy?

Simplest answer: Think of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy (also known as speech-language pathology) as cousins that form a rehabilitation therapy team. All three disciplines are integral, important, and independently unique; as a therapy team, they are composed of clinical backgrounds and scopes of practice that address different and also similar skills, perform evaluations, interventions, and treatments to help patients regain function, and work together to provide care to persons who have been impacted by a life event, environmental change, disease, disability, or injury.


Occupational Therapy (OT) + Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) + Physical Therapy (PT)

  • OT summary version - allied health professionals who work with persons from neonate to centenarians who have had disruptions in their normal life activities secondary due to life events, environmental changes, disease, disability, or injury in order to promote, increase, improve determine novel, pre-existing, alternate options for resumption of daily living.

  • SLP summary version - allied health professionals who work with persons across the life span to provide rehabilitative, habilitative, or compensatory communication or swallowing performance and ability.

  • PT summary version - allied health professionals who work with persons of all ages to promote, improve, or increase movement and function while aiming to decrease pain through the use of manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and activities, and education via a conservative care approach (i.e. prescribed exercises/use of different techniques rather than surgery for results).

What is the #ABCsofOT?

Every April to celebrate occupational therapy month for the past 6 years, I have fostered a professional visibility challenge of building an OT alphabet using occupational therapy terminology or principles. Essentially it works like this: each day of the month correlates with a letter of the alphabet. So, April 1st = Letter A, A is for Adaptive Equipment or Analysis, B is for Balance...and so on through letter Z.

The ultimate goal of the challenge is profession visibility because let’s be honest a lot of people either have never heard of OT before or they accidentally misconstrue the breadth and scope of the profession. With that being said this visibility challenge encourages sharing on social media every day of the month something specific to occupational therapy via text in captions, graphics, pictures, or videos via the alphabet as a topic guide.

What started as an intrinsic independent idea (I did this by myself the first year) turned into a catchy event in which anyone regardless of schooling or experience is invited to build their OT alphabet, use the hashtag #ABCsofOT and tag me @shannenmarie_ot. If you search the hashtag you will be able to find the posts and are sure to learn a few things.

I hope you may consider following along with the #ABCsofOT starting April 1st. The more we all understand each other’s unique healthcare and medical professions, the more adequately we can accurately refer to one another for the betterment of patient care:)!!!


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