When I started out studying Occupational Therapy (OT) I thought I knew what it was. But by the first week I had a pretty good idea I didn't know what it was, no one else knew what it was and it took us all four or more years to find out.
Though I'm still trying to work out what it is.
And, I'm also not alone here.
Why is it that OT is so badly understood? Is it really just suffering from a poor marketing campaign? I think in many ways it is. I've been wanting to write about this for a while but I'm not too sure how to get it all down! And perhaps this clarification is as much for me as it may be for anyone who per chance reads this blog.
It might help if I start out by defining what OT is not:
A. It's Not Basket Weaving. This is an out-dated, out-moded concept that stems from OT's infancy during the Great War. And, if you're an OT working in a Multi-Disciplinary Team you're probably likely to hear this term heckled at you on your first day and every day thereafter (usually from naive nurses or social workers).
Back in the war, nurses used craft, wood work etc. as a way to occupy and rehabilitate wounded soldiers. But while we still have wars - the times, they have changed.
Furthermore, you don't need a FOUR YEAR DEGREE (or PHD if you really like) to teach people how to stitch thatch!
B. It's Not Art Therapy. This, along with Music Therapy tends to fall under a loose category of 'Diversional Therapy.' You can study to be a Diversional Therapist (probably 2 years at TAFE?) though to do these things doesn't always require it. Music, Art and Drama Therapists etc. come from a range of backgrounds and these fields in themselves can be studied to various degrees.
C. It's Not Nursing. With every respect to nurses, OT is it's own Allied Health discipline. Nurses can not be OT's just as OT's can not be nurses. This annoys the proud part of me the most.
I never wanted to be a nurse. I am not a nurse. OT comes with its own foundations, its own beliefs, its own framework. Without proper training, a nurse could not perform a Functional Capacity Assessment just as an OT couldn't jab a needle in your arm.
D. It's Not getting people back to work. And it isn't Occupational Health and Safety. For sure, this is a part of it and we must work within Health and Safety Guidelines, though OT is much more, Or less, depending where you're working. But by and large, getting people back to work is really a fraction of what drives the therapist.
E. It's Not acting with a 'Red Hat.' In the UK, this term is often used toward OT's, especially in community settings. And this same idea apllies all over the world though the terms might be different.
The term 'Red Hat' stems from some crazy view of the OT as 'clown' - as the one who entertains. No! No! No! This is not the function of the OT. OT's do not entertain. They will not perform for you (unless you pay them handsomely in favoured grocery items) and they will not clean up your dishes - although, because they're so nice, they usually do get lumped with the coffee cups.
F. It's Not a cereal endorsed by Ian Thorpe.
G. It's Not IT. It's OT (stoopid :p)
OK. OT. Where does this leave us then? Well, we've narrowed the field by saying some of the things that OT isn't. How do we say what it is? We'll save that for the next post...