#OTalk – 18 March 2014 – Interpersonal Skills: Intangible or Teachable?

Thank you to @bobcollins for volunteering to host this week’s #OTalk at 8pm GMT (click this link to check your local time), inspired by a conversation during a previous #OTalk:

Interpersonal skills: Intangible or Teachable?

In November 2013, OTalk was hosted by Ashley Peter who stimulated discussion around the differences she experienced between OT as a degree in the UK and in the US. In the UK you can practice as an OT with a Bachelor’s degree, in the US you need a Masters degree. The talk sparked debate about what specific skills you need to become an OT and whether higher academic achievement is a prerequisite of being a good OT? After all, many people working as OT support workers, technicians, or with diploma qualifications are successful members of the workforce without degree level training.

It was recognised that research skills and Evidence Based Practice (often more prevalent in higher degree programmes) are essential in order to utilise and contribute to the evidence base. Also, transferable skills such as critical thinking, reflection and problem solving are required for clinical reasoning in practice, in order to select and provide the best possible interventions. The consensus was that both sets of theory and practice skills are required to become a competent and professional OT.

A thread of tweets developed debating whether all these skills are redundant if the OT does not possess the interpersonal skills needed to apply them; with Bill (@BillWongOT) noting that ‘our intangibles are underrated’.  It was felt that these ‘people’ skills and the therapeutic use of self are crucial for engagement and developing successful therapeutic relationships; but what are these skills, can they be defined and can they be taught?

Otalk on Tuesday 18th March 2014 will explore this a little further and it is hoped that clinician’s, academics, students and lecturers are all able to contribute to the discussion.

Bill’s pre-tweets on the night will include his own experiences of developiong professionalism and establishing therapeutic relationships.

My brief reflection

Interpersonal skills are perhaps the essence of the occupational therapy  profession which are consonant with the core values and beliefs that shape our practice (person centred, holistic, occupational beings in context). These skills are essential to the therapeutic processes of rapport building, understanding socio-cultural & spiritual contexts, effective communication, (including empathy, compassion and mindfulness), and teaching. You don’t have to look far in occupational therapy practice to find places where these skills are defined, not least when undertaking assessments with people in clinical practice, think Assessment of Communication and Interaction Skills  (MOHO) or OT Practice Framework (AMPS Performance Skills: Communication/Interation (AJOT). There are resources which identify and break down these skills for healthcare professsionals; a few are listed here…

Berglund C & Saltman D (2002) (Ed’s) Communication for Health Care. Melbourne: Oxford University Press

Finlay F (2004)The Practice of Psychosocial Occupational therapy. Third Edition. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes

Hargie O (2006) The Handbook of Communication Skills. Third Edition. Hove: Routledge

Moss B (2008) Communication Skills for Health and Social Care. London: Sage Publications

There is also a rich source of material on the internet (albeit not very not academic research!)…



So there are resources that identify interpersonal skills but the question remains whether there is something more intangible than that? Is there something else that evades definition and teaching which which may set apart one practitioner from another?

OTalk Questions

Q1 What are interpersonal skills and can we define them? If so, how?

Q2 Are interpersonal skills are recognised in OT programmes of study?

Q3 In your opinion can interpersonal skills be learnt? Can they be taught?

Q4 Do some remain intangible? If so, what?

Q5 Do intangible skills occur naturally or are they developed through life experience?



This chat has now passed. For a transcript of the discussion, check out this link at Healthcare Hashtags, or download the PDF

Remember to check out our guide to #OTalk and Continuing Professional Development for a template you can use to document your participation.






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