You're an Occupational WHAT? Occupational Therapist
What is it you do as an Occupational Therapist (OT)?
“As OT’s we define ‘occupation’ as ‘tasks that are meaningful or essential to the individual’ rather than strictly ‘work’. For us, occupation can be leisure activity, activities of daily living as well the vocational.” explained Jason.
This philosophy means that OTs can be found providing services across the lifespan – from paediatrics to aged care – as well as the more literal ‘occupational’ health sector.
As an OT and Workplace Rehabilitation Consultant (WRC), Jason’s day to day work features three main areas of practice:
1) Workplace Rehabilitation
2) Injury Prevention
3) Supporting people to function at their best at work
OEP/OT ....Where does it get confusing?
Occupational and Environmental Physicians (OEPs) and OTs are two professionals, often working independently of one another, at different points in the worker’s recovery from illness or injury, but also working together.
Jason puts the OT role into context, “In workplace rehabilitation, my role is about getting people back to the things that are important to them. It’s about looking at function and tasks – we might be recommending adaptive equipment or adapting the task to enable the person to get back to performing their role.”
This approach aligns with the Health Benefits of Good Work which OEPs, like Dr Sid O’Toole actively promote, as we know that recovering at work in a well-planned and supervised program helps the worker get better, faster. So both professions are clearly philosophically aligned.
The OEP on the other hand, gets involved to ensure the worker has:
- the correct diagnosis (not as easy as it sounds!)
- ensuring the evidence based treatment and management follow.
Dr O’Toole recommends organisations have Good Work and RTW support available to assist recovery, seeing this as important as the medical treatments he may prescribe,
“People need to have good work, something that shows to them that they are still being productive gives them a sense of purpose in the workplace and we need to set guidelines and timelines for graduation and tick them off as we go.”
Working together - OT and OEP
Figure 1 illustrates an example of a situation where an OT or an OEP could be involved in a worker’s recovery. Often a range of rehabilitation stakeholders are involved but not every case sees the input from OTs and OEPs.
This makes it all the more important to knowing each other strengths.
“The multidisciplinary approach in workplace rehabilitation is incredibly valuable” says Jason.
“At the same time, it’s really important that you know the limits of your own scope when working in this industry. For example, you might be asked for an FCE – but sometimes you need to see if that answering the workplace’s question or do they need an IME?”.
Jason acknowledges that while the two professions may not work together day to day, there are definite synergies between OTs and OEPs.
“I see the role of the OEP defining the medical risk and capacity of the worker and putting it into the workplace context. OTs talk function, OEPs bring ‘what is the medical risk’ and together they strike a balance between functional capacity and medical restrictions. OEPs have the broad approach where they can talk about the medical condition and put it into context for the workplace.”
OTs are well known for their functional approach physically – and the FCE’s, job dictionaries and ergonomic assessments that go along with it – but what about impact of psycho-social factors?
Jason explains that OT’s draw from a strong bio-psycho-social perspective.
“OTs have long worked in the psychological space as part of holistic approach to person’s function. We look at the task, environment, mental and cognitive demands and the way the person functions in the environment.”
“We ask how can we help people function best? It might be skill development or boosting functional capacity but also we consider psychological functioning and how it impacts the person and the role.”
With the current focus on Psychological Safety in the workplace, this approach is sure to garner interest.
Jason responds, “It’s not necessarily a new idea for OTs but it’s certainly great that groups like the Office of Industrial Relations are bringing the concept to the attention of Queensland workplaces.”
OT in the Pandemic
One of the more contemporary examples of preventative services Jason has been involved in, is helping debrief customer-facing workers. These are workers who are dealing with increased customer aggression since the onset of the pandemic.
“The impact of COVID has meant there much more uncertainty in society. It’s added another layer of stressors and had a direct effect on organisations providing services to people who are themselves can be highly stressed and trying to help people with the resources available ”, reflects Jason.
“We go in and provide a confidential debrief and coaching service. It’s important to step in when customer-facing workers can’t always ‘solve’ or give an immediate solution to their clients. We help these workers reconnect with their values and what is meaningful to them as well as an avenue to debrief.”
And finally, Jason’s 'Mistaken Identity' Story
Despite never being mistaken as an OEP, Jason does have his own mistaken identity story!
“As a new graduate OT I bought some snappy outfits to start my first job out of uni.
I rocked up in my first week working at community mental health in my new wardrobe and got mistaken for a psychiatry registrar. It didn’t take too long for me to adjust my wardrobe after that!”
Thank you Jason.