Professional Identity in OT
Huge thanks to Professor Annie Turner @eann_turner for agreeing to host an #OTalk on Professional Identity. I was lucky enough to hear her speak on the topic in her Casson lecture at the COT conference a couple of years ago so I’m looking forward to revisiting this. We know that occupational therapy covers the whole spectrum of human occupation because our professional practice is based around the concept of the reasoned use of occupation to impact on health and well being. This is what’s unique about occupational therapy. We also know that focusing practice on occupations that are meaningful to people provides the best motivation. Our uniqueness therefore lies in the way we think. However when this concept gets translated into our professional practice we find that we have very few (if any?) unique practical skills that define what we do as occupational therapists. Our skills are the public face of our practice. They are what people see us doing and what we are defined by. However because human activity is infinitely wide ranging the skills and activities we perform can give out confusing messages about who we are. They can seem common place and superficial and so, mistakenly, it can be felt that anyone could do what we do. This can cause issues with our identity, both within the profession and to those who observe our practice. Literature looking at OTs’ professional identity comes from a range of countries. It tells us that the problem is caused by a range of issues including the fact that OTs give out unclear and inconsistent messages about who they are and that they have difficulty providing an occupation based rationale for what they do. Literature also shows that the dominance of medical model thinking in many of the places where OTs work can make us reluctant to use the word ‘occupation’ in conversations, reports etc for fear of being misunderstood, yet OTs are often happy using complex medical terminology. Some of the consequences of this situation are shown to impact on how clearly funders understand what they are buying and that OTs can feel undervalued and can believe that the technical skills used by other professions hold more status than our own practice. In workshops and talks I’ve recently given to OTs about our professional identity I’ve found that we still seem to have issues with who we are. Not only that, it seems that other people still have trouble understanding what occupational therapy is all about. The big question therefore is what we do about this situation where it exists? How do we ensure that our unique thinking is translated into a visibly unique and valued ‘doing’? Questions to consider:
- How are your skills and your thinking valued in your workplace?
- How do you explain the complexity of thinking that underpins the apparently everyday activities in your practice?
- If occupational therapy continues to be misunderstood what should we do about it?
Further reading (all available through the COT website): * Kinn LG and Aas RW (2009) Occupational therapists’ perception of their practice: A phenomenological study Australian Occupational Therapy Journal 56, 112–121 * Clouston TJ and Whitcombe SW ( 2008). The Professionalisation of Occupational Therapy: a Continuing Challenge, British Journal of Occupational Therapy 71(8) 314-320 * Gillen, G. (2013). A fork in the road: An occupational hazard? (Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67, 641–652