What OT Is and Isn’t: In Honor of OT Month

Title Picture1 AprilWhat OT Is and Isn’t: In Honor of OT Month

by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP,

on the ATandOT Blog



In honor and recognition of Occupational Therapy’s annual OT month celebration, I wanted to share some recent experiences and new information from our recent AOTA Conference, as well as personal insights about describing our unique profession. Perhaps it is the very “uniqueness” of OT that makes it so hard to define at times.  Some of the professional experiences and learning I gained from our OT leaders and inspirational keynote speakers at AOTA Conference 2016 helped me further clarify our roles as OT practitioners.  I wanted to share these insights and some “FAQs” I’ve answered in my 34 years of practice as an OT during this important month celebrating occupational therapy.

A recent personal example of this difficulty in defining occupational therapy was at a well-attended Open House this past month at our college. There were three faculty members present with a total of almost 100 years’ experience as OTs, but each of us faced this basic description and explanation of our beloved profession with some degree of trepidation.

Obviously, AOTA is well aware of this ongoing dilemma that we face as OTs.  In that light, our incoming AOTA President, Dr. Amy Lamb, shared this updated AOTA Vision 2025 statement of OT with the AOTA 2016 conference attendees:

“Occupational therapy maximizes health, well-being, and quality of life for all people, populations, and communities through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living.”

Another excellent resource I greatly identify with as a description of OT is a quote by our outgoing AOTA President Dr. Ginny Stoffel:

Stoffel Quote1


We were so honored to be present for the Keynote speakers at the AOTA 2016 Conference:   Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, a married couple and Boston Marathon bombing survivors.  (See more from OT Practice Magazine.)  As they shared their inspirational story of survival and the support of their OT in their recovery, it made all of us as OTs even more proud of our profession and brought many of us to tears.  Jessica, who is a nurse, had a unique perspective on the distinct value of OT, as she stated that OTs helped her and her husband to “overcome, participate, and excel.” These three empowering words were worth the cost of attending the conference as it summed OT up quite succinctly.  Please watch the full video AOTA has posted of their keynote address available on YouTube.

Keynote Picture1


Furthermore, I wanted to combine some of the frequently asked questions about OT that I have been asked many times in my 34 years as an OT, along with the empowering language of our positive keynote speakers, Jessica and Patrick.


Frequently Asked Questions about OT and Answers:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Answers: Ways in which we assist our clients in overcoming, participating, and excelling.
Do you get people jobs? Indirectly we do contribute to a client’s potential abilities to gain or regain employment following injuries or as a result of diseases.  But this is just one of many areas of “occupation” or activities in which we work collaboratively with our clients to achieve their highest level of function.
You do “basket-weaving”?  Insert: ADLs, playing, handwriting, etc. The roots of our profession were as Reconstruction Aides in WWI and those early therapists did perform “hand crafts,” such as basket-weaving, with their injured servicemen.  We have always used functional activities in OT to work on those skills our clients have valued and needed to fully participate in to excel in their occupational roles in their lives, no matter if this is in a medical, community, or school-based setting.
You just do exercise/range of motion, splinting, and physical agent modalities? Unless functional activities and tasks are used in conjunction with these preparatory tasks, these are NOT considered occupational therapy (OT Practice Framework, 2014).  As a profession, we do use these treatment methods and approaches to prepare our clients for completing those activities and occupations that have been identified through assessment that they wish to be able to perform, or to return to, in their lives as independently as possible.
So, OT is the same thing as PT? We love our physical therapy team members and quite frequently we work in conjunction with them. Yet, as a profession, we each hold distinct value for our clients in many ways. This ability to clearly articulate OT’s distinct value to the public is an important goal of AOTA.  In 2015, they identified the distinct value of OT as “to improve health and quality of life through facilitating participation and engagement in occupations, the meaningful, necessary, and familiar activities of everyday life. Occupational therapy is client-centered, achieves positive outcomes, and is cost-effective.”  (See more at AOTA.)


As OT practitioners, we are often asked to describe to the public exactly what OT is. Hopefully these resources have given you a few more tools with which to answer that and other frequently asked questions you may encounter in your OT practice.  Also, if you get an opportunity to attend the AOTA annual conference, you should take it, as it is such a wonderful source of continuing education and networking opportunities.  But perhaps even more so, it reaffirms the reasons that you became an OT practitioner in the first place.  Every day, with every client, we as OTs are working with them to overcome the limitations of their injuries or disease processes, to fully participate in all of their desired occupations and activities, and to excel by returning  to or establishing their highest level of function in order to live their lives as independently as possible.


Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATPMolly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter sitePinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

The title photo is the property of the author and should not be used without her expressed permission.  


What OT Is and Isn’t: In Honor of OT Month

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