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Use OT Dialogue to inform, inspire and influence thinking about occupational therapy

Published: 10/6/2017

Occupational therapists are called not only to provide client care but also to educate people on the core of what we do as activity experts, life teachers, and meaning givers.

Michael Sy
MHPEd, OTRP (Philippines)

​To celebrate World Occupational Therapy Day (WOTD), I would like to share with readers a strategy I developed to promote the profession. Called OT Dialogue, I hope the strategy can help the public appreciate the value of occupational therapy. I also wish to inspire occupational therapists to try the strategy especially during October, which is Occupational Therapy Month.

The year 2017 marks the 100 years of existence of the occupational therapy profession, which has evolved from a purely technical vocation of assisting war victims throughout their recovery to a globally recognized profession that aims to enable people from all walks of life to gain a sustained meaningfulness in what they do in their daily living. Despite its century-old existence, occupational therapy is still considered a young profession. Its relative short existence may explain why most occupational therapists still encounter frustrating misconceptions about their work. With the advent of the Internet and social media, an information explosion occurs where occupational therapy can either be promoted extensively or maligned carelessly. In fact, this information overload does not permit people to filter and double-check the information they receive any more. Therefore, we cannot blame the public when they just take any information as is. We consider this as a challenge in spite our global and local advocacies; a challenge that demands us to be more intentional in promoting occupational therapy one person at a time. Occupational therapists (OT) are called not only to provide care to their clients but also to communicate to their clients and the public the very core of what we do as activity experts, life teachers, and meaning givers.

I too have my fair share of the frustrations. However, my dissonance only pushes me to think of ways to clarify people's conceptions, and hopefully, in this way, help move the profession to an even brighter future. OT Dialogue is my way of making concrete steps to make occupational therapy a pillar of a healthy society.

Since becoming an occupational therapist, I have been making the effort to always carve out time in a day to inform people about occupational therapy. So, when someone asks me what I do, before I answer, I'd ask him first if he is willing to engage with me in a short dialogue of about 10 minutes. Our conversation usually goes like this:

Curious Person:"What is occupational therapy?"
Me (OT):"Do you have time for a short dialogue?"
Curious Person:"Sure, why not."
Me (OT):"What do you do now? It can be school or a job…"
Curious Person:"I work as a teacher."
Me (OT):(I define what occupational therapy is. Then I give an example on how it can be applied to my interlocutor's current job.)
Curious Person:Oh, so that's what you do. What is your difference with physiotherapists? With psychologists?
Me (OT):

(I differentiate occupational therapy from physiotherapy or another allied health profession. This means I also make sure I know what other allied health professionals do. Hence, the importance of interprofessional education in our training.)

Curious Person:Thank you for the information.
Me (OT):Do you have another question about occupational therapy?
Curious Person:

That's all for now. Thank you!

Me (OT):You are welcome. (If the curious person asks another question, you may answer him accordingly with the same intent of educating him about what you do.)

The actual course of the dialogue really depends on the person I engage with. I just make sure that what I say, fits his/her level of understanding. So, use the dialogue steps flexibly. As long as you remember that the most important thing is to make sure that the OT Dialogue is two-way and educative rather than one-way and phatic.

My challenge for occupational therapists around the world is to become intentional and interactive when talking about the profession. At this point, I would like to challenge any OT student or professional to perform seven OT Dialogues with seven different people before 31 October. The OT Dialogue will be part of your contribution to this year's WOTD theme of Inform, Inspire, Influence. When October ends, feel free to share your OT Dialogue encounters with us [email: and we shall post it in the HOMER website]. In this way, we can turn this essay from a one-sided persuasion into an interactive sharing-learning experience.

Happy World Occupational Therapy Day!


About the writer


Michael P. Sy is a Filipino occupational therapist who is currently studying at the Department of Occupational Therapy in Tokyo Metropolitan University (Japan) as a PhD scholar (Year 2). His clinical experience is on pediatric occupational therapy with psychosocial concerns and community-based occupational therapy. He then transitioned to become an educator after he received his Master of Health Professions Education from the University of the Philippines Manila in 2016. His master's thesis is on interprofessional education and collaborative practice (IPECP), which he aims to eventually translate into the medical, health science, and social work practice settings. His PhD research revolves around the topics on occupational therapy, substance addiction and rehabilitation, and IPECP. During his spare time, he creates infographics and graphic designs for his advocacies and for other people. You can contact Michael directly at or



Common misconceptions about occupational therapy

Myth 1: "Work providers"

Answer: The word "occupation" is closely related to work in lay man's term. That is correct, but OTs do not provide jobs for those who are seeking employment like what human resource specialists do. OTs help people with disabilities or difficulties develop (or rehabilitate) skill sets required to perform and participate in daily activities. As activity experts and analysts, OTs specifically help people find meaning in any of their daily performance and participation, which may include self-care, community activities, school-related activities, work, leisure, play, sleep and rest.


Myth 2: "They are like arts and crafts teachers"

Answer: Historically, occupational therapy primarily used arts and crafts to help people with mental health issues (formerly called "imbeciles") to keep them "occupied" within the facility (formerly called "asylums). OTs are not art teachers, how we wish. We simply use arts and crafts as a modality to develop and facilitate the use of hand, thinking, and social skills for clients who need them for their occupational goals. Unlike art teachers, OTs focus on the process (of skill development and gaining meaningfulness) rather than the finished product. Other modalities that OTs use to help their clients achieve their occupational goals are splints, assistive devices and equipment, wheelchairs, therapeutic massage, range of motion exercises, etc.


Myth 3: "Assistants of physical therapist and/or psychologist"

Answer: OTs receive academic credits on psychology courses and physical rehabilitation throughout their academic course work. Although they partially know about psychology and physical therapy, they do not necessarily become "assistants" because occupational therapy is a unique profession that stands on its own. OT as a profession is indeed autonomous that upholds a core value where its professionals are expected to work and learn with physical therapists, psychologists, and other allied health and social care professionals to achieve the best outcomes for their clients. This core value and competence is called interprofessional collaboration.

 Demythification of common misconceptions about occupational therapy by Michael Sy,MHPEd, OTRP.





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