Sometimes images can convey an action or feeling better than words, so I offer this as representation of the occupational therapy profession's response to the Washingtonian article that some in the profession believed was overly critical:
Like the Spartans, many occupational therapists responded to the message in the article by killing the messenger. That might not be the best idea.
I made the following comments in the article but since I am not assured that those comments will persist I thought I would document them here.
Some OTs are concerned that the article is unfair and undermines the legitimacy of OT in general and their work in particular. First of all, a magazine
article can't undermine the legitimacy of anything. It is a piece of
journalism. As such it has some reporting elements and invariably there
are some differing opinions injected. Those opinions exist outside of
the magazine article. The article does not undermine legitimacy; the
opinions do. Therefore, it is important to look at the opinions that
are reflected in the article.
Some defenders made comments that promoting normal development is a good thing to do, particularly since so many children have experiences that are not encouraging school readiness skills. There was discussion about how the current culture and parenting practices are not always beneficial for children. In the comments one therapist asked several questions related to "When is it bad to..." and those were all great
questions because the answer to all of them is never. It is never bad
to promote a child's development - but that is not the opinion here that
is problematic. The opinion is a matter of whether or not it is
ethically correct to promote and recommend therapy for every level of
small deviation from normal that might exist.
although it is never bad to promote a child's development, the real
issue is whether or not it needs to happen in context of a skilled
occupational therapy encounter.
Here it is important to take
square aim at the American Occupational Therapy Association that
promulgates policies and positions that countervail existing practice
realities. Current practice realities include the fact that services
are reimbursed with municipal money and that it is not in society's best
interest to provide a therapeutic service to any child 'just because
they might benefit.' Occupational therapists are routinely instructed
by their professional association that they should promote wellness and
that medical models should be questioned and that new models of
prevention by providing 'population based services' should be adopted by
all. Those are well intentioned but very misguided instructions.
those are all fine ideals and I understand the very good intentions
behind those concepts but that is not how the world of municipal funding
works and that is not how the world of private insurance works. Those
ideas are also incongruent with how services are delivered in early
intervention programs and school systems. These systems are not
designed to provide services to anyone who might benefit.
the problem here is not that an article is undermining the legitimacy
of OT. The problem is that there are some OTs are providing services
that might be unnecessary given the realities stated. They get ideas
about providing those services because of misguided but well intentioned
association-level dialogue. I notice that an AOTA pediatric
representative commented and referenced the Practice Framework. I
encourage my colleagues to take a deeper look and examine the expansion of the
definition of OT that has occurred over the last three versions of that
Practice Framework in the last 12 years. The definition of OT has
expanded from being a service for people who have disabilities and it
now states that OT is a service that promotes wellness for entire
populations. I documented and discussed this issue extensively in a previous blog post.
Some occupational therapists are
abandoning their professional purpose and breaking the social contract
of providing services to children who have disabilities and instead they
are promoting this notion that 'everyone can benefit.' It might be
true that people can benefit but that is not how the system works and
that is not what society wants to pay for.
That is why we see articles like this.
In addition to problems with expanded definitions of practice that don't jibe with reimbursement reality there is also the problem that some therapists are providing services that are not evidence based and not reimbursed by regular insurance.
This is a re-occurring narrative. This is not the first
such article that describes parents being charged thousands of dollars
for evaluations and therapies that insurance will not reimburse. The
prices quoted in this article are in line with what others have reported
in many other venues and they are in line with what happens from some
providers in my own community. Some
unscrupulous OTs are charging these rates that are double, triple,
quadruple, and even more than what any private insurance would pay for
Furthermore, these services are charged
for therapies that sometimes have very poor evidence to back them up.
That does not mean that this represents ALL occupational therapy but
this is a reality and we don't correct the problem by refusing to
The problem does not solely exist in
private practice. This time last year there was collective outrage about a NY Times article that discussed the skyrocketing rates of service provision in public schools. We can have interesting debate
about the nature of modern parenting, the shifting culture and lack of
outdoor play spaces and opportunities, the changing criteria for autism,
and the rates of medication for young children - all of these are
factors - but in my opinion responsible professionals should work to
educate families about how they can personally work to mitigate these
negative influences. Not every child needs to be placed on a therapy
My suggestion is "Occupational therapy:
Heal Thyself." All the good that is done by so many responsible and
ethical occupational therapists is quickly undone by your colleagues who
are quick to swipe some concerned parent's credit card or by your
colleagues in the school engaging in pseudoscientific quackery instead
of evidence based practice or by your colleagues who have abandoned the original purpose of occupational therapy in pursuit of a new wellness service for the whole population.
I ask my colleagues to please stop killing messengers.