In this blog, Rachel Russell, Senior Regional Advisor at Foundations, reflects on OT Week and why she has mixed feelings in talking about ‘occupations’. 

Every year, around the first week of November, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) holds OT Week to celebrate the profession and its contribution to health and social care. This year’s theme centred around helping others outside the profession better understand what ‘occupations’ are and why it is essential to health and wellbeing.  

One reason RCOT had this campaign was hearing from many of their members that they don’t feel their expertise is recognised, and the reason for this is a lack of awareness from other professionals (and members of the public) about what occupations are and, therefore, what Occupational Therapists do. To be honest, when I first qualified, I, too, struggled with this, but thankfully, I can now confidently say what I do as an Occupational Therapist; I also have no problem describing what occupations are  – which are those everyday activities we want, need and have to do that occupy our time from the moment we get up to the moment we go to sleep.  

Although we celebrated OT Week at Foundations by hosting a special webinar and sharing the meaning of occupation through our social media channels, I did have mixed feelings about this. As Regional Advisors, we recognise that the DFG process brings together disciplines from the built environment, housing, and social care. Not only does each discipline bring its own skills and knowledge to the process, but they bring their own language and ‘worldview’ of the DFG. While in most local authorities, this dynamic results in positive outcomes, ensuring older and disabled people get the necessary adaptations, sometimes language, such as OT terminology, can be a barrier to effective working relationships. 

In the Foundations Workshop for Occupational Therapists, one of the ‘top tips’ I give Occupational Therapists to help them communicate even better with their Technical Officers and Grant Officers is to avoid using ‘occupation-focused’ language. So, while I might know what an Occupational Therapist means when talking about a shower seat needing to be installed at a specific height and location in the bathroom to improve ‘occupational performance’, this term has little meaning to colleagues who aren’t OTs. Rather than talking about occupational performance and the height of the shower seat, it explains that positioning a shower seat at a specific height will keep the person independent because it will make it easier for them to stand up 

Also, as Occupational Therapists, we seldom get asked to explain our professional (clinical) reasoning to other professionals, but this is not the case in the DFG Process. This is because, as part of the occupational therapy role in the DFG process, their professional reasoning is part of the application process. Specifically, the grants team uses the information to understand why and what adaptations are necessary and appropriate. So, Occupational Therapists must articulate this information in sufficient detail for a decision about the grant application. Again, highly ‘occupation-focused’ technical language can hinder that process. 

So, while it’s been great to celebrate and share all things ‘occupations’ during the RCOT Occupational Therapy Week, it is also important to remember that language can be both a facilitator and a barrier in the DFG Process.