Occupational Therapy Practitioner Awareness: Get to Know the Collaborative Role Between OT & COTA
April is Occupational Therapy Awareness Month! It is a time to bring awareness to our profession and help others outside of our profession understand our role in the service we provide to clients, organizations, and communities. Occupational Therapy as defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association is “ the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.” I love that this is a time to honor those in our field who contribute great meaning to our profession, as well as educate on our role. In our profession we have occupational therapists (OTR/L), certified occupational therapy assistants (COTA/L) and OT aides. I would like to take this time to honor the professionals working in the role of the certified occupational therapy assistant, COTA/L.
Have you ever heard of a COTA/L? Per the Illinois Occupational Therapy Practice Act, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA/L) are registered and licensed to assist in the practice of occupational therapy under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist (OTR/L) and to implement the occupational therapy treatment program as a established by the licensed occupational therapist. COTA’s have completed an occupational therapy program of at least 2 years and have earned an associates degree or equivalent at an accredited college offering a specialized COTA program. Just like OTR/L, COTA’s have successfully completed a National Board Certification Exam in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). This exam certifies that as candidates, we have the necessary knowledge of occupational therapy to practice. (source-"Illinois Occupational Therapy Practice Act" Source: P.A. 83-696). I have had the pleasure of working and collaborating with several COTA/L in the past 10 years as a licensed occupational therapist and I believe they can be a true collaborative gift to our field. It is my professional opinion that all settings providing occupational therapy services should consider the hiring process for COTA/L. I currently work in a school based setting and the collaboration with COTA/Ls has provided me the opportunity to work alongside some of the most eager and dedicated professionals; who provide great insight and efforts for client progress.
I have noticed there are two big questions that come up when discussing providing opportunities for COTA/Ls in the school setting and I would like to discuss them to support clarification: 1). What level of supervision is an OTR/L required to provide when collaborating with a COTA/L? 2.) What is the role of COTA/L in evaluations and intervention process? The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), our national professional association, indicates clear guidelines on these areas: 1.) Supervision methods include face-to-face contact (observation, modeling, client demonstration, discussions, teaching, and instruction) and indirect contact (phone conversations, written correspondence, and electronic exchanges). The OTR/L is responsible for determining when to delegate responsibilities to COTA/L. It is the responsibility of the COTA/L that performs the delegated responsibilities to demonstrate service competency and also to not accept delegated responsibilities that go beyond the scope of their practice. 2.) The occupational therapy assistant contributes to the evaluation process by implementing assessments that the OTR/L delegates. The COTA/L provides verbal and written reports of observations, assessments, and client capacities to the OTR/L. The OTR/L interprets the information provided by the COTA/L and integrates that information into the evaluation and decision-making process. Following the evaluation, OTR/L and the COTA/L collaborate with the client to develop the intervention plan. The COTA/L is responsible for being knowledgeable about the evaluation results and for providing input into the intervention plan, based on client needs and priorities. The COTA/L collaborates with the OTR/L to select, implement, and make modifications to occupational therapy interventions for each client. (source-American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2014, Vol. 68, S16-S22).
I encourage setting supervisors/administrators, occupational therapists and certified occupational therapy assistants to review the AOTA guidelines for supervision, roles, and responsibilities during the delivery of occupational therapy services to help clarify any misconceptions and support a collaborative, effective service delivery model rooted in best practice to serve and support populations of the clients who need us. These guidelines can be reviewed in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy: https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=1934863. Make sure to wish all the OT practitioners in your life a Happy OT month in April! Ask questions, get to know us and our roles! Occupation by definition is the performance of activities required in daily life; so be sure to know that we as occupational therapy practitioners have great skills and knowledge to offer support in the many areas of health and well-being
for people of all ages as they navigate their daily occupations.