Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

Working in Canada 

In Canada, occupational therapists work in many different places, including hospitals, schools, in the work place, rehabilitation centres, private clinics, nursing homes, community programs and in the homes of clients. Occupational therapy settings are found in both rural and urban locations.

Occupational therapists help people to participate in the activities that are important to them. They work with clients of all ages, with individuals and with groups. All occupational therapists in Canada receive a general education so they are able to work with any population with any physical or mental health issue. Some occupational therapists specialize in working with clients within a specific age group or disability such as those with arthritis, developmental coordination disorder, mental illness, or spinal cord injury.

Occupational therapy services enable people to have the opportunities and resources to engage in occupations for their health, well-being and justice. In general, clients of occupational therapists are people or groups who have difficulty carrying out daily tasks related to taking care of themselves, participating in paid or unpaid work, or enjoying leisure time. Occupational therapists work to assist their clients lead a satisfying life at home and in the community.

Occupational therapists in Canada work together with their clients to decide on treatment goals. This approach is called client-centred practice and is the foundation of the occupational therapy profession in Canada. Client-centred practice enables the client to identify the goals that are important to them.

Occupational therapists define an occupation as much more than a chosen career. Occupation refers to everything that people do during the course of everyday life. Each of us has many occupations that are essential to our health and well-being. Occupational therapists believe that occupations describe who you are and how you feel about yourself. A child, for example, might have occupations as a student, a playmate, a dancer and a table-setter.

Scope of Occupational Therapy Practice in Canada

The scope of practice for occupational therapy is determined by the regulatory bodies in each of the provinces. While some requirements and expectations vary, there are some things that all occupational therapists share in common and practise on a day-to-day basis regardless of what kind of job they have.

These things include:

  • Enabling clients with their occupational goals, whether it is to take care of themselves, participating in paid or unpaid work, or enjoying leisure activities.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Ability to collaborate with their clients to achieve their goals, and to collaborate with health care and other service providers.

Each regulatory body in Canada uses the The Essential Competencies of Practice for Occupational Therapists in Canada to describe what is required of an occupational therapist to practice in certain provinces and territories of Canada. If you have started the process to become registered as an occupational therapist, you may have received a copy of the “Essential Competencies” from your provincial regulatory organization or they may be available on the organization's web site. 

CAOT also has two important documents that may help therapists define scope of practice. The first document is the Profile of Occupational Therapy Practice in Canada. The Profile of Occupational Therapy Practice in Canada reflects current evidence in the areas of competency and occupational therapy practice and integrates new information and models within a continuum of skills and knowledge needed by the occupational therapy workforce to meet health needs. The Profile identifies the seven main roles of occupational therapists as a/n:

  1. Expert in enabling occupation
  2. Communicator
  3. Collaborator
  4. Practice manager
  5. Change agent
  6. Scholarly practitioner and
  7. Professional

The second document regarding occupational therapy’s scope of practice is the latest set of guidelines for occupational therapy in Canada entitled, Enabling Occupation II 2nd Edition: Advancing a Vision of Health, Well-being and Justice through Occupation (Townsend & Polatajko, 2013).

This document states that occupational therapy is necessary when engagement in the occupations of everyday living becomes a challenge. There are five essential elements to occupational therapy (as an expert in enabling occupation). All five essential elements should be present in all occupational enablement practices in the direct delivery of professional services to qualify as occupational therapy. The essential elements of occupational therapy practice are:

  1. Presence of an occupational challenge.
  2. Possibility of solutions that enable occupation.
  3. Client–specific goals/challenges/solutions and client-centred enablement.
  4. Multidisciplinary knowledge base.
  5. A reasoning process that can deal with complexity.
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