Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why students will be making elevator speeches to define OT for another 100 years

A new day, a new document, a new definition for the profession:

For many years, the American Occupational Therapy Association has stated that students need to promote the profession by developing an effective 'elevator speech' explaining occupational therapy. This essay explains that the reason why students will be making elevator speeches for the next 100 years is because the leaders of the profession keep changing definitions about what OT is and who it serves.


There is a new draft document on The Philosophical Base of OT Education that is going to be debated and voted on by the Representative AssemblyThe current document was published in 2007.

There are contrasting statements in the two documents.  From the 2007 document:
Occupational therapy education promotes integration of philosophical and theoretical knowledge, values, beliefs, ethics, and technical skills for broad application to practice in order to improve human participation and quality of life for those individuals with and without impairments and limitations.

And from the proposed document:

Occupational therapy (OT) education prepares occupational therapy practitioners to address the occupational needs of individuals, institutions, communities, and populations. The education process includes both academic and fieldwork components. The philosophy of occupational therapy education parallels the philosophy of occupational therapy, yet remains distinctly concerned with beliefs about knowledge, learning and teaching.


The new document seems to suggest that in the last seven years there has been a consensus paradigm shift in that the profession of occupational therapy has a professional scope of practice that now includes addressing the occupational needs of individuals, institutions, communities, and populations.

I understand that there are some members of our Academy who believe this to be true, and I also understand that there have been some successful efforts to get this kind of wording into Model Practice acts, but I would like to know the practical and field evidence that supports this kind of wording, outside of what some people are wishing to be true.

This kind of language takes us out of sync with many state practice acts that still identify OT as a health related profession.  Most state practice acts do not support the notion that OTs are licensed to solve the occupational problems of entire communities and populations.

At some level, I suggest that we need to have congruence between what we say we teach and what the field actually does.  If our leadership fails in this, then they place our entire profession in peril.

Many states primarily define occupational therapy around treatment of individuals.  The word 'client' is used but generally refers to human clients, and the regulations supporting the practice act are all oriented around 'client factors' that are typically addressed.  Additionally, practice requires involvement of the MD to provide referrals in most cases.

The newer definition of ‘client’ is individuals, institutions, communities, and populations.   There is no consistency in how we have defined 'client' over time.  Rather, there is a steady stream of incrementalism in our professional documents that continues to drift away from our philosophical core.

The ongoing changes to the Practice Framework provides prima facie evidence of incrementalism.

There is a new focus in the OTPF 3rd ed. in that "Clients are now defined as persons, groups, and populations." (p.S2.).  The document itself lists this as a "MAJOR REVISION" (p. S2).  Use of the term "MAJOR REVISION" is taken directly from the document and makes a claim of consistency difficult to understand.  The OTPF 2nd edition made some reference to 'broader definitions of client' including populations of people but the OTPF 3rd edition is more explicit.  Furthermore, additional MAJOR REVISIONS include "The relationship of occupational therapy to organizations has been further defined." (p. S2).

In fact, the document now more boldly states "Services are provided directly with clients using a collaborative approach or on behalf of clients through advocacy or consultation processes." (p.S3).  The extension of the definition of occupational therapy goes even further: "Finally, organizations employ occupational therapy practitioners in roles in which they use their knowledge of occupation and the profession of occupational therapy indirectly.  Practitioners can serve in positions of dean, administrator, and corporate leader.  These positions support and enhance the organization but do not provide client care in the traditional sense." (p.S3).

The Practice Framework states that it "builds on a set of values that the profession has held since its founding in 1917."  (p.S3).  This is outright revisionism.  I would like to see some citation from the founders of the profession that would support calling a college dean or an administrator an 'occupational therapist' as they function in their non occupational therapy jobs.

This is all just evidence of severe drift from our purpose as a profession.  100 years ago we started as a health and perhaps social service profession that directs its efforts toward individuals so that they can function more independently for the benefit of themselves and the benefit of society.    Now we are stating that occupational therapy promotes social and occupational justice, advocates for laws and social policies, and has an expanded view of client that now includes institutions so that being a dean can now be practicing OT, if you are using your OT knowledge.

The failure of the Practice Framework, and the potential failure of this new document on the philosophy of education, is that the reality of what most OTs actually do in their jobs is lost.  It is replaced by this expanded conceptualization of OT.  I will again state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with occupational therapists using their knowledge and skills in service of many different job functions.  That does not make everything that an OT can do 'occupational therapy.'

Professions have a social contract, and the public has an expectation of what services a profession will provide.  The OTPF and this new Philosophy of Education document includes an incremental redefinition of our profession.

Presenting ourselves as occupational therapists is not the same as claiming that everything we do is 'occupational therapy.'  When we fail to make this distinction, we are breaching our social contract.


 Why we need to have a defined scope of practice that comports with reality

Aside from any definition that may or may not be included in any practice act, it would be helpful to know how much of what people are identifying as OT intervention is being carried out on buildings and oppressed communities and populations of people.  It is a big world and I don't doubt that there may be a few people who are providing occupational therapy to buildings, but before we change the definition of our profession any further we should probably consider evidence.

It is my belief that we should be protecting our actual scope of practice with actual language that reflects what most people do.  We should not be populating our definitions and our practice acts with erroneous ideas about what constitutes occupational therapy.

We need to start making distinctions between THE WAYS THAT PEOPLE USE THEIR OT SKILLS and WHAT CONSTITUTES OT PRACTICE.

When a lawyer enters politics, they become a politician and they cease being a lawyer.  They use their law skills but it is NOT PRACTICING LAW.

The same is true for occupational therapy.  When you design an accessible playground you are using your OT skills, but you are not PRACTICING OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY.   LOTS of other people can do that job too, and they are not PRACTICING OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY.  If we define our practice as things that many other people can do, we no longer have a profession that is worthy of licensing!

That does not make designing accessible playgrounds an unimportant task.  If we want to survive in the health care arena we need to start distinguishing between what actual 'therapy' is and what 'use of OT skills in related tasks' is.

A core need in a regulated profession is to have congruence between what its Academy says it does and what its professionals do on a daily basis when they are practicing their profession.

As a part of regulation, State practice acts tend to spell out the specifics of intervention in terms that are labeled 'scope of practice.'  This 'scope of practice' defines the legal activities that the public can expect from the licensed professional.  This list protects the public and prevents professionals from engaging in activities that are beyond its legal scope.

In all professions, there are MANY ancillary activities that professionals may engage in that don't precisely represent 'practice' of the profession.  Many of those ancillary activities draw upon the related knowledge of the professional.  However, since those activities might be reasonably completed by a number of people with a number of different skill sets, engaging in those tasks can't be considered a unique scope of practice of any particular discipline.

As an exercise that demonstrates this, consider which professional is most appropriate for the job:

1. Consulting to planners on ADA requirement for bathroom accessibility in a new office complex
2. Leading a community group that investigates universal design elements in a playground
3. Developing a falls prevention program and presenting to a senior citizen group
4. Promoting a clubhouse model when developing a community mental health program
5. Providing a bullying awareness program in an elementary school
6. Advocating at a common council meeting for curb cuts in a downtown shopping area
7. Participating on a design team in developing powered mobility devices for toddlers
8. Raising awareness of human sexual trafficking and suggesting alternate policing strategies
9. Developing an after-program fitness event for parents and children in a local Head Start
10. Writing a grant to obtain funding for more library materials for people with visual impairments

In these ten examples, you might expect that different people would write in OT, PT, nurses, doctors, architects, engaged citizens, social workers, generic human service workers, grant writers, civil engineers, and an almost endless list of other people who might be qualified.

The point is that this kind of systems consultation, or service to populations, or whatever it may be called - does not represent a unique practice role for occupational therapists.  That does not diminish the importance of these tasks.  It just does not make them unique to the OT Scope of Practice.

When we conflate the profession of occupational therapy with the ancillary good things that an occupational therapist might do with their skills we WEAKEN our ability to express a cogent message to the public about what the profession is.

Many practitioners struggle with reimbursement in a health care context.  What messages are we sending when we say that the practice of OT also involves ancillary consultative activities that might be carried out by any number of professionals?

What kind of unnecessary resource drains and legal challenges do we expose ourselves to by conflating our ancillary activities with our actual professional practice?


How do we solve this problem?  

We solve this problem by distinguishing "OT Practice" from "Fun things you might do with your OT credentials someday."  I strongly speak against the continued push to put this language in our official documents.  We can respect the good work that OTs do in these areas without continuing to confuse our public about what our profession is licensed to do in a therapy context.

As there has been a call for fact-based information, I offer the following for consideration by the RA when they discuss the proposed document:

The NBCOT Practice Analysis is a useful tool to help determine level of frequency of occupational therapy tasks engaged in by new practitioners.  The activities of new practitioners should be a good point of critical reflection for educators when they are considering documents about the philosophy of education.  Hopefully, there is some congruence between the way that educators are preparing students and the tasks that those students engage in once they are in the field.

Dunn and Cada (1998) reported the results of the 1998 NBCOT Practice Analysis and in this article they identified population-based services as a practice area of new emphasis.  That Practice Analysis included a survey of over 3000 occupational therapy practitioners.  Validated knowledge and skill statements were rated for frequency.  Population based services were rated at a low frequency of 4% to 5% but this was adequate frequency that it was included in the analysis report.

In the subsequent Practice Analysis (NBCOT, 2008) services to populations was no longer a separate domain as it did not reach the level of frequency that was evident in the previous analysis.  Instead, services to populations had diminished frequency and was reflected only as an isolated point of knowledge, underneath the larger domain of "Selecting and implementing evidence based interventions."  Accordingly, a much smaller percentage of items on the exam reflected this area.

The most recent NBCOT Practice Analysis (2012) surveyed nearly 3000 practitioners and there was again very low frequency of population based services.  In the most recent analysis such services are reflected at the task and knowledge level related to overall program development and advocacy.  There was not a high enough frequency that this would be listed at a domain level.

I have significant personal and institutional knowledge of all these Practice Analyses as a function of my volunteer record with NBCOT.  I recall with specificity the issue of population based services when it appeared in the analysis.  As a member of the Exam Development Committee, and later as a leader of that group, I recall item writers struggling because so few people had any direct experience with population based services at that time and there was a paucity of reference materials that could support an item on the certification examination.

I have very specific and direct recollection and validated my recollections by discussing this issue with other people who were deeply involved at that time.  At that time of that 1998 Practice Analysis we had conversations wondering why population based services appeared as a validated domain.  People have mused that it may have been related to the BBA of 1997 changes at the time that left so many OTs unemployed and looking for 'ancillary' work where they could use their OT skills.  It was notable that the reported frequency of those activities dropped in the 2008 and 2012 Practice Analyses, once the immediate BBA crisis subsided.

Frequency of task engagement is a functional metric that should be used by the profession when it is defining its activities and scope of practice.  Services to populations or whole communities are a low frequency activity and do not represent a common area of occupational therapy practice.

When combined with the other pragmatic challenge of determining if such activities even represent a unique occupational therapy role, it remains rather puzzling that this is a continued point of emphasis in our professional documents.  When we are creating broad-reaching documents about the philosophy of the occupational therapy profession and how we are educating future clinicians, it is difficult to understand why there would be an extensive focus on such a constricted area of actual practice.

Bottom line questions for the RA: 

1. Should we define our profession in such terms that only represent the activities of a fractional portion of our membership as has been verified by Practice Analysis?

2. With stipulation that ancillary activities are valuable in their own right, on what justification do we define our practice by minority activity, particularly when there is not evident consensus that these activities even represent a unique role of occupational therapy?

3. Just because we have a history of shifting definitions that don't make good sense, is it adequate justification to continue down a path once we have facts that should cause us to stop and pause?


American Occupational Therapy Association (2008). Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain & Process 2nd Edition.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62(6), 625-683.

American Occupational Therapy Association (2014). Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain & Process 3rd Edition.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1-S48.

Cada, E. and Dunn, W. The National Occupational Therapy Practice Analysis: Findings and Implications for Competence.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 52, 721-728.

NBCOT (2008). Executive Summary for the Practice Analysis Study. Registered Occupational Therapist OTR®. Retrieved Oct 30, 2014, from

NBCOT (2012). Practice Analysis of the Occupational Therapist Registered OTR®. Retrieved Oct 30, 2014, from

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Comments on 'Validity of Sensory Systems as Distinct Constructs'

Chia-Ting Su and Diane Parham (2014) wrote an interesting article that appears in this month's American Journal of Occupational Therapy.  Their study involved use of confirmatory factor analysis to test constructs within sensory integration theory.  Results of their analysis have rather broad implications and raise many important questions.

A highly popularized notion based on Dunn's (2001) Slagle lecture is that sensory processing can be identified as occurring within different systems where there might be over or under responsiveness to incoming stimuli.  Su and Parham applied data to this model and could not confirm that this conceptualization fit their data.  This in itself is a significant finding because it puts into question whether or not SOR/SUR models are the most appropriate way to explain problems with sensory processing.

Also germane to this finding is the concern that tools like the Sensory Profile confound analysis by including questions about temperament that may not have much or anything to do with a distinct 'sensory processing' factor.  Su and Parham (2014) state, "the inclusion of items on the Sensory Profile that are highly sensitive to temperament is another plausible reason why the Sensory Profile factors differed from ESP factors in the current study." This is an issue that I have blogged about previously, particularly in context of the Shea and Wu (2013) article about children in the criminal justice system.  I stated
This analysis should help us to more deeply understand that our current assessment tools, which are apparently measuring something, may not just be measuring a sensory processing construct.  In my opinion, the assessment tool also includes many questions that are broad and general and could represent a number of behavioral phenomenon, primarily dependent on the interpretation or labeling of the examiner.

I believe that we should consider pausing when we use tools like the Sensory Profile to report an incidence of "sensory processing disorder."   It is apparent that atypical scores on this assessment may indicate co-morbid issues that are interwoven with a number of other behavioral and social and psychiatric diagnostic constructs.

The prevalence concern may be even more significant.  Claims about prevalence (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, and McIntosh, 2004; Ben-Sasson, Carter, and Briggs Gowan, 2009) of a proposed 'sensory processing disorder' have to be reconsidered in context that the Dunn Model may not adequately parse out sensory concerns from temperament concerns.  Again, this is something that many clinicians have known for a very long time but this study validates those opinions.

The reality is that significant damage is done when non-validated or non-replicated research is rushed into clinical practice.  One can only speculate on the efforts that will be required to unwind these notions that turn out to be only partially correct.

There are other important issues raised in the Su and Parham (2014) study.  The authors state that one of their primary interests was to "test the discreteness of sensory system measures in preparation for further research examining whether functions of the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems serve as a foundation for visual and auditory functioning, as Ayres theory proposes."  I do not understand why occupational therapists are still interested in applying hierarchical models to describe complexities of neurobehavioral function.  For over 25 years that I have been studying and lecturing on sensory processing concerns I have left out hierarchical models because of all the research that has been done that supports heterarchical organization.  There is simply too much research to even begin making citations, but descriptions of heterarchical neural organization can be found across all disciplines from neurology to psychology to robotics and computer engineering.  As a primer into the notion of heterarchy and multilevel cross-disciplinary understanding of neurobehavioral concerns I recommend any of the articles written by Berntson and Cacioppo (seminal articles on heterarchy and social neuroscience referenced below).

Even if we can discretely reduce processing concerns into modality-specific categories, where is this going to lead us?  It is very difficult to understand why occupational therapists continue to be interested in sensory-level intervention strategies when we have had such historic challenge with finding strong evidence for this kind of treatment approach. In contrast, other disciplines are developing evidence based cognitive-behavioral methods for addressing regulatory problems or for mediating stress-level responses.  As an example I refer to research being conducted by Stanley (2009) that is being applied in a military context but that I suspect will be gaining much broader consideration due to the raw effectiveness of the techniques.

In summary, the Su and Parham (2014) study provides many interesting discussion points for occupational therapists who are interested in sensory processing and resultant behaviors.  It is promising to see that there is some progress in our research that validates concerns that have been expressed by practitioners.  However, there is evident need that as a profession we need to continue questioning our basic premises.  So many other professions have moved beyond models of hierarchical organization, now embrace hetararchical and dynamic systems explanations for behavior, and are in the process of validating alternate non-sensory based intervention methods.   Reading the literature of other disciplines provides strong evidence that occupational therapists are not at the forefront of relevancy on ideas about sensory processing and regulation.


Ahn, R. R., Miller, L. J., Milberger, S., and McIntosh, D. N. (2004). Prevalence of parents’ perceptions of sensory processing disorders among kindergarten children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 287–293

Ben-Sasson, A., Carter, A.S., and Briggs Gowan, M.J. (2009). Sensory over-responsivity in elementary school: prevalence and social-emotional correlates. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 705-716.

Berntson, G.G., Boysen, S.T. and Cacioppo, J.T. (1993).  Neurobehavioral organization and the cardinal principle of evaluative bivalence, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 702, pp. 75–102.

Cacioppo, J.T., Berntson, G.G., Sheridan, J.F., and McClintock, M.K. (2000).  Multilevel integrative analyses of human behavior: Social Neuroscience and the complementing nature of social and biological approaches.  Psychological Bulletin, 126(6), 829-843.

Dunn, W. (2001). The sensations of everyday life: Empirical, theoretical, and pragmatic considerations.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 608-622.

Shea, C. and Wu, R. (2013). Finding the Key: Sensory Profiles of Youths Involved in the Justice System. OT Practice 18(18),  9–13.

Stanley, E.A. and Jha, A.P. (2009). Mind Fitness: Improving operational effectiveness and building warrior resilience. Joint Force Quarterly, 55.4, 144-151. 

Su, C. and Parham, D. (2014). Validity of sensory systems as distinct constructs, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, 546-554.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A syllabus and reference list regarding attempts to redefine the occupational therapy profession

The lynchpin of this conversation goes back to the patient v. client debates which quite clearly have not been resolved.  I think it is important to look at those issues very carefully.  Client-based ethics are simply different than patient-based ethics, and the more that we walk down paths of client-based ethics the more risks we take of straying too far from our roots, as we were clearly warned by Reilly (1984) and Yerxa and Sharrott (1985).

It should be very interesting to note that the entire argument for client-based ethics as originally made by Herzberg (1990) revolved around the allegedly 'faulty' logic of Reilly, Yerxa, and Sharrott.

Herzberg stated that the term ‘patient’ implies that people are sick.  She also argued that using the 'patient' term removed autonomy, limited participation, and restricted our roles in mental health and wellness.  She made that claim in 1990, and I would argue that nearly 25 years later of client-based ethics that our roles and functions within mental health and wellness arenas have not really done so well.  She also stated that although ‘client’ implies an economic-legalistic relationship, it does not preclude a medico-ethical relationship.  In other words, we would not stop 'caring' for people just because we call them clients.

There is strong evidence that she was incorrect.

It did not take long to tumble down the hill.  In 2003 Townsend, Langille, and Ripley wrote an article stating that a more effective methodology for solving client problems would be to focus on the tensions of the systems that the clients are in. They stated, "Given the drive by people with disabilities to become more empowered in their everyday lives, does it make sense for occupational therapy to work for institutional change or to abandon client-centered practice as too idealistic and too unrealistic in the real world?"

It got worse from there.  Further descent into client-based ethics is evident in Taylor's (2009) Intentional Relationship model.  I believe that issues related to therapeutic use of self are actually quite important for our profession, but there is little question that some very unusual turns have been taken with this work.  Specifically, I reference Kielberg, (2012) where they state:

“Importantly, this perspective does not always mean that the client should be entirely independent in his or her decision-making or that he or she should take the lead in defining problems, establishing plans, or setting goals for outcomes. In fact, this perspective on client-centred therapy does not necessitate that the client make decisions jointly with the occupational therapist. Instead, this perspective endorses being an advocate for the client’s welfare and desires, however explicit or subtle they may be. This perspective offers a well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of what it means to be client-centred. Client-centred therapy may involve empowering the client and collaborating during treatment or it may simply mean taking the time to appreciate and respect clients’ experience in occupational therapy, whatever it is, and advocate for their needs when they may not be able to do this for themselves.”

The argument FOR the 'client' term originally revolved around concerns of 'medical paternalism' and now those who support the 'client' term are stating that being client-centered MEANS taking some paternalistic stance about identifying and advocating for needs.  This is a stunning juxtaposition.  It only took 25 years, but now we have some academic occupational therapists providing full-throated support for the idea that we do not care for patients, but that we represent clients and their needs, and we do so using a model that acknowledges that they don't always know what is best.

This very brief syllabus and reference list documents the wellspring of ideas that informs the context of debates related to advocacy, politics, and the proper scope of occupational therapy as an allied health care profession.  It is true that some academic occupational therapists (and psychologists) are re-conceptualizing our expression of Core Values. 

I believe that whether or not these ideas represent the mainstream of actual practice and the values that practitioners hold remains an open question.


Herzberg, S.R. (1990). Client or patient: Which term is more appropriate for use in occupational therapy.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 44, 561-564.

Kjellberg, A., Kåhlin, I., Haglund, L. and Taylor, R. (2012). The myth of participation in occupational therapy: Reconceptualizing a client-centred approach, Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, (19)5, 421-427.

Reilly, M. (1984). The importance of the client vs. patient issue for occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 38(6), 404-406.

Taylor, R.R., Lee, S.W., Kielhofner, G.W., & Ketkar, M. (2009). Therapeutic use of self: A nationwide survey of practitioners’ experience and attitudes. American Journal of Occupational Therapy , 63, 198 - 207 .

Townsend, E., Langille, L., Ripley, D. (2003). Professional tensions in client-centered practice: Using institutional ethnography to generate understanding and transformation. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 17–28

Yerxa, E.J. & Sharrott,G.W. (1985). Promises to Keep: Implications of the referent "patient" versus "client" for those served by occupational therapy.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 39(6), 401-405.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Investigation into the Mendability program

On a professional occupational therapy forum some participants were asking for more information about the Mendability program, which is a 'sensory enrichment' therapy for autism.  I decided to post my response here for broader distribution.


Here are some additional resources so  people can learn more about Mendability.

Kim Pomares and Eyal Aronoff are the co-founders of Mendability.  Pomares is a Social Media and Content Development Creator and Aronoff is co-Founder of Quest Software.  It does not appear that they have any clinical training in autism or any kind of therapies that I could find.

Pomares' mother reportedly has the "clinical" ideas behind the program:

"The theory behind Mendability originated out of France by Pomares’ mother. He said she came to Canada to train nurses in hospitals to do this therapy, but she only had an idea and needed scientific evidence for validation. After extensive research efforts, he secured the money and scientific backing to be able to validate his mother’s theory and created an inexpensive version to make it accessible to everyone."

Claudie Gordon-Pomares is Kim Pomares mother and is currently the Director of Mendability. 

According to her Linked In profile she has a BA in English and an MEd in psychology.

Aronoff's clinical connections are that his daughter had autism and was cured through the Mendability program.  See their TedX talk.

Aronoff made substantial financial contributions to UC Irvine, specifically to researchers Cynthia Woo and Michael Leon in their department of Neurobiology and Behavior.  The researchers did not receive any financial compensation from Aronoff, but they did produce a paper that was supportive of sensory enrichment therapy.  Mendability is not mentioned in the research study directly.

The Mendability website now cites the UC Irvine study as evidence of how the program works.

These are the facts.  Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Why OT Rex is an appropriate mascot for the OT Profession

This picture, and some similar to it, were widely passed around social media within the last year as an expression of the occupational therapy profession.  The picture is a play on the humorous limitations of T-Rex, and how adaptive equipment presumably supplied by an OT could help him with his 'reach.'

There have been discussions on social media sites about the divide between academia and clinical practice.  This is not a new debate but it has become more important as the profession discusses a possible switch to a doctoral degree for entry level practice.

One primary criticism is that that AOTA Ad Hoc group that came up with the recommendation was populated almost entirely by academics.  It is an undeniable reality, and underscores a problem with not properly consulting all stakeholders before publishing a position statement.

Unfortunately, constricted regard for feedback continues.  The AOTA Board of Directors announced that there would be opportunities for members to participate in the process and offer feedback.  One such opportunity was publication of the meeting schedule where the topic would be discussed.  There is a Joint Academic Leadership Council (ALC) and Academic Fieldwork Coordinator (AFWC) meeting later this month.    This information has not been widely publicized, is buried deep on the AOTA website, and of course direct questions to share information about this meeting in the OT Connections forums have been ignored. I wrote this post and it has never been answered:

Dear AOTA BoD,
This opportunity for communication was created one month ago.  Given that this online forum is not an apparent opportunity for conversation and as there is no confirmation or acknowledgement of most of the questions asked other than the promise of future FAQs, I would like to ask for clarification on the meetings that are being held throughout the year and that are listed on this page:
In the FAQs posted at it states "We encourage members to participate in the meetings mentioned above, and we will be holding an open forum discussion on April 17 in Nashville, during AOTA’s 2015 Annual Conference and Expo."
There is very little detail about these meetings available.  For each meeting, can we please have the dates, times, and locations - specifically including the times that the OTD issue will be discussed - or are these entire meetings dedicated to discussing the OTD issue?  Additionally, I would like to know
1. Would you kindly provide an operational definition of "encourage members to participate in the meetings" so we can understand our opportunity?
2. Will there be a mic available for public comment?
3. What is the time limit for presenting information?
4. Are you accepting a written statement to accompany any oral testimony?
5. Do you require the written statement in advance?
6. Are you scheduling people for comment or is everyone simply showing up at the same time and having an opportunity to speak?
As the opportunities for participation are constricted given the available geographic locations, I am sure you can understand the need for as much advance planning as necessary in order to secure favorable flight and hotel rates.  This is particularly important for planning as substantial travel and expense may be required in order to participate in this process.
Thank you for providing this information as soon as possible.
Christopher J. Alterio, Dr.OT, OTR

I happened to find out about this meeting as a function of my part time status in academia.  It is unfortunate when a member of a professional association has questions ignored and the only way to gather information is by happenstance.

Well now I have found a copy of the meeting agenda, and I see that conversations about 'what practice will look like for an OT or OTA beyond 2017' will be discussed.  This is a pivotal issue in the debate about need for an entry level doctorate.

In true OT REX fashion, AOTA has constricted its reach with who is presenting.  They have chosen an AOTA Board Member, an ACOTE Board Member, and a member of the Ad Hoc Group that recommended the entry level doctorate.  That hardly seems like a panel that will stray far from the company line or that even represents the interests of street level practitioners.

Setting the agenda are the Chairs of the Academic Leadership group.  What follows is a parade of AOTA Board members and other academic leaders.  The one exception is that the Executive Director of NBCOT will speak for 30 minutes, who would seem to represent an outside stakeholder group.

What the AOTA BoD continues to fail to understand is that it should not continue to constrict this conversation to academics and people who are populating the halls of the AOTA and ACOTE boardrooms.

What practitioners need to know is that the reason why our profession has a reach like OT REX without his adaptive equipment is because our leadership is not interested in a real conversation - they are only interested in pushing a conclusion that they have all already reached a very long time ago.

If only OT Rex would remember its clinical skills and extend its reach a little - maybe it would be a little more unstoppable.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When your legacy is OT education and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

I support free market capitalism, and respect ownership rights people have in the money they have earned through voluntary trade.  Since the money belongs to them they should be able to spend it or give it away at their own discretion.

This week we all learned that the University of Southern California Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy received a $20 million gift from the Chan family.  The gift creates the first named and endowed occupational therapy program in the nation, according to the school's website.

The article states that USC is a pioneer in occupational science and occupational therapy.  An interesting feature of occupational science is that it purports to be an interdisciplinary field that is intended to inform the occupational therapy profession by providing basic research knowledge about the occupational nature of human behavior.

Since the inception of this 'new science,' several scholars have pursued studies relating to the social and political nature of occupations (Wilcock, 1998; Townsend and Wilcock, 2004; Pollard, Sakellariou, and Kronenberg, 2008).  These authors have all been proponents of a concept of occupational justice, which is loosely equivalent to the political concept of social justice, except focusing on the occupational nature of the issue.  Embedded within these beliefs are concepts including occupational apartheid, occupational deprivation, and occupational alienation.  The solutions to these perceived problems is proposed as the political activation of the occupational therapy profession.

These initiatives have not gone unchallenged.  The social justice debates within the profession have focused on whether or not ethical requirements to follow specified political initiatives is a proper scope for a professional health care field.  Some people, myself included, don't believe that politics is the proper field for a health care profession.  Others disagree.

The social justice thread has also been evident through the profession's literature including  a special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (Braveman and Bass-Haugen, 2009) and it has been infused into the AOTA Code of Ethics and Occupational Therapy Practice Framework.

This heavy interest in social justice that was birthed at USC is what makes the $20 million gift all the more interesting.

 The gift was made by Ronnie C. Chan, who is also a USC TrusteeMr. Chan is a Chairman of a major Hong Kong real estate firm, and was also a Director of Enron Corporation and a member of its audit committee when it filed for bankruptcy as a result of fraud.  Enron became infamous in the early 2000s for its well publicized bankruptcy that was necessitated because of accounting fraud.  Deceptive accounting practices caused average people to lose billions of dollars while Enron insiders, including some of its senior management and Board, sold their shares before the bankruptcy filing.  According to the Washington Post, many of the Directors of Enron remained largely unscathed by the bankruptcy, but they did collectively have to pay a combined $13 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit alleging insider trading.  Mr. Chang was one of the Directors in that group.

 Chan also resigned from the Motorola Board after the Enron collapse. The AFL-CIO, which represented the interests of many Motorola shareholders, called on Procter and Gamble to reject Chan's re-nomination to the Motorola Board.  As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, the AFL-CIO was motivated to block former Enron Directors from other public boards because its members lost more than $1 billion on their 3.1 million Enron shares.

The occupational science scholars have been concerned with social forces that contribute to limitations on people's ability to engage in occupations, including oppressive political forces, oppressive economies, oppressive banking systems, oppressive sociocultural practices, and so on.  This is what makes the USC/Chan alliance so unexpected.  The Enron scandal epitomizes the kinds of structures that many occupational scientists point to as constituting primary sources of oppression in society.

In the week prior to the announcement of the USC gift, the Chan family announced an even larger gift of $350 million to Harvard University's school of public health.  Commenters and bloggers were quick to note that Ronnie Chan was not mentioned in many of the Harvard news releases.  Some commenters wondered why money allegedly made off of the backs of poor renters in Hong Kong should go to support elite private colleges in the United States.  Others reflected on "Ronnie’s Teflon status [that] also allowed him to emerge unscathed from the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong when Amoy Gardens, a middle class housing development, became the epicenter of infection with 321 cases and several deaths. The high number of cases in this one location was attributed to poor maintenance of water pipes. Hang Lung was the developer of Amoy and managed the buildings."

Hang Lung Properties is Mr. Chan's company.  That is quite a notorious historical record in consideration of a hefty donation in the interest of public health.

The acceptance by USC of this gift, however, tells me quite clearly that I should no longer accept the proselytizing of do-gooder occupational therapists who claim to be concerned about structures that contribute to problems with social or occupational justice.  If they are going to hold out their hands and accept money like this while promoting an opposing agenda, then their message cannot be taken seriously.

I am not a social/occupational justice proponent, but point out these facts so they can be considered for intellectual and ethical consistency.


Articles linked above.

Braveman, B. and Bass-Haugen, J.D. (2009). Social justice and health disparities: An evolving discourse in occupational therapy research and intervention. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 7-12.

Pollard, N., Sakellariou, D., & Kronenberg, F. (2008). A political practice of occupational therapy, Edinburgh: Elsevier.

Townsend, E. & Wilcock, A. (2004). Occupational justice and client-centred practice: A dialogue in progress, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(2), 75-87.

Wilcock, A. (1998). An Occupational Perspective of Health, Thorofare, NJ: Slack, Inc.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Basic vs. applied science: The ongoing OT and OS debate

 Over the course of the last several years an important professional debate about social justice has been occurring in the occupational therapy profession.

That actual debate started innocently by a student who posted a question in the Public Forums on OT Connections who was interested in conversation about an RA motion to remove Social Justice from the AOTA Code of Ethics.  That student disagreed, stating that she did not think that Social Justice represented a single political philosophy and that it should not be removed.

Some leaders in the occupational therapy community voiced their support of the student's position, stating that social justice is not reflective of a singular political ideology and should not be re-framed as such.  There was near immediate disagreement, with other AOTA members expressing that it does represent a single political ideology.

The basis of the eventual RA vote that supported inclusion of Social Justice was made on the questionable premise that Social Justice does not represent a single political ideology.  In the ensuing years of debate a lot of evidence has been provided to counter that premise.  The new draft of the AOTA Code of Ethics removes the term 'social justice' but many of the constructs remain embedded within the document.  That document remains in revision and feedback is still being collected.

I am prompted to write this reflective summary because I believe that a new level of evidence about the nature of Social Justice has been revealed, although it is unfortunate that this evidence is not in the public OT Connections forum where the debate has continued for several years.  The evidence about the political nature of Social Justice as it relates to occupational therapy is evident in a discussion thread of the International Society of Occupational Science.

The ISOS group is an essentially open membership organization that is virtually organized and focused on enabling international communication between people who are interested in occupational science.  Many of the members and leaders within the ISOS organization are occupational therapists, but certainly not all of them are.  Many of the members and leaders of the ISOS organization are also members of the Society for the Study of Occupation: USA.  As such, many of the ISOS participants are leading academics for American-based occupational therapy.

Unfortunately, while the debate about Social Justice occurred on the open OT Connections forum, there was not broad participation by the OT Academic community or the membership itself, for that matter.  Underlying the OT Connections debate there have been several themes.  Some who opposed Social Justice did so more from a basis of political opposition to the concept.  Some did so more from a basis of concern about applicability of the Social Justice and other occupational science concepts to the applied field.   Some had a combination of concerns.

The challenge in the debate has been a lack of participation and most certainly not a lack of substance.

In August 2014, the ISOS group started a discussion thread entitled "Developing occupational science as a critical and socially responsive discipline: challenges and opportunities." The following information is available on their website and is quoted directly:

"Occupational science appears in a crucial moment of its development, characterized by an increasing awareness of issues of inequity and injustice, and calls to further embrace diversity, situatedness and critical reflexivity. Overall, there appears to be a call for occupational science to become a more critical and socially responsive discipline, and increased attention has been focused on topics such as: how certain occupations are promoted by social policy discourses that reinforce structures of domination, how ideologies underlying certain occupations create and perpetuate occupational injustices, and whether occupational science has a responsibility to address social justice, humanitarism and human rights."

Certainly, occupational science is NOT occupational therapy, but one of the expressed purposes of the science was to inform the occupational therapy profession.   However, we now have a basic science that is interested in "expand[ing] the understanding of occupation and enhance the social relevance of the discipline, particularly as issues of occupational inequity and injustice are increasingly fore- fronted in local to global socio- political contexts."

The content of the discussion is based on the a priori assumption of "how can occupational science move forward in its development as a socially and politically engaged discipline?"  Responses from forum participants in the ISOS context are entirely political, including open embrace of Marxism, promotion of Nussbaum's Capabilities Approach, and a strong interest in interpretation of occupation through the lens of socialistic political interpretations of economies and power distribution.  In short, the ISOS discussions represent a unidimensional political agenda.

It is unfortunate that the proponents of occupational science were not willing to commit to a public and open conversation about this on the OT Connections website.  A lot of discussion about the political aims of Social Justice could have been avoided if we had more participation from those Academics who were proponents of this politicization.

So the facts are very clear, and those facts are that Social Justice does reflect a particular political ideology and represents a unidimensional world view on the political nature of occupations.

This leaves some members who stated that Social Justice is apolitical in a position where they need to explain their statements.  It may be very possible that some of those members were simply unaware of the political nature of the Social Justice construct.  Even a cursory review of the ISOS discussion will provide evidence to refute those claims.

As a final point, the occupational therapy profession needs to move forward.  There are several important issues that are on the table:

1. Will we re-affirm our Core Values or will we follow a handful of international Academics into a New Model of justice-based and rights-based ethics?

2. Will we take steps to revise our Code of Ethics to reflect pragmatic concerns of practice?

3. Will we expend occupational therapy resources on a basic occupational science that is not responsive to actual practice concerns and seems focused on promoting a political philosophy?

4. Will we create, nurture, and promote conversations where we have HONEST DIALOGUE about the very nature of these concerns?

The OT Connections forum and the ISOS forum should serve as a reflection point for those who wish to identify as 'occupational scientists' and those who wish to identify as 'occupational therapists.'  It is evident in these conversations that the concern about basic vs. applied science is far from over.

I would like to close this with a quote from Dr. Gary Kielhofner, who I believe presciently identified our current problem and explained his concerns when discussing the purpose of some of his final work:

This current volume was inspired by my increasing concern  that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.  It was greatly influenced by a concern that the field, in its eagerness to develop a science of occupation, may be leaving behind or forgetting the "therapy" in occupational therapy.


(direct links above)

Kielhofner, G. (2009). Conceptual Foundations of Occupational Therapy Practice, 4th ed.  F.A. Davis: Philadephia.

Background reading:

 The 2011 Social Justice Debates in Occupational Therapy
Social Justice Follow Up: Brass Tacks for the Occupational Therapy Profession
Social Justice: What Would Dr. Kielhofner Say?
Emmanuelism Provided the Core Values to the Developing Occupational Therapy Profession
Patient vs. Client - What Could Go Wrong?  Look Around and See...