Our Time is Now: The Role of Occupational Therapy During a Pandemic

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Through a global health pandemic, COVID-19 times are definitely trying. Many occupational therapists (OTs) have transitioned to telehealth practice, with populations ranging from paediatrics to adult home health services, while academic programs have shifted to distance learning.

We know that health professionals are at the forefront of this public health crisis. But what else can OTs do to contribute during this time, in addition to providing services to our clients? Discussions have taken place between OTs globally, on educating the public and our clients to be equipped to navigate the current situation. Here are some of the ways that occupational therapy can contribute...

Activity Analysis

Since 1917, we have been focused on breaking down tasks to the 'nitty-gritty', in order to promote successful occupational performance. One way we can contribute is to analyse various activities, such as hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces and taking the proper safety precautions. This is what we do best. If we look back a few months ago, something as simple as hand-washing was something we didn’t have to think twice about, especially as health professionals. Flash forward to the present day, there have been videos circulating of health professionals urging the public to follow safe and effective hand-washing protocols. OTs are equipped with the unique skill to observe and analyse the way someone carries out any given task.

Things may not be exactly the way they were before but, as occupational therapists, we can help others adapt, as changes occur.

By following reliable guidelines, we can educate the public on proper methods. Occupational therapists' unique skill of activity analysis is so important during this time, to ensure that people are staying safe and reducing the spread of the virus.

Activity Idea: Have a friend, child or family member wash their hands (or send you a video), while you analyse the activity. Use this opportunity to educate and promote proper hand hygiene!

Evidence-Based Practice

With social media and television being some of the primary ways we get information on COIVD-19, it is important to share information that is reliable and accurate. As OTs, we are trained to search for the most compelling evidence out there. We can use that skill to share accurate information regarding the health pandemic. We can do our part by sharing information that is backed by evidence and that comes from reliable sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). Sharing peer-reviewed articles, on topics ranging from the benefits of telehealth services to an OT's role, can educate policy-makers and the general public about our profession. What better time than now to advocate for our profession?

Mental Health and Self-Care

With many regional/state-wide restrictions, travel bans and businesses closed, it can be difficult to put our mental health as a top priority. Organisations such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness (USA) have provided information on ways to get support (see below). As OTs, we are equipped with the ability to educate the public, by providing community resources and education related to self-care. Adding a little self-care into each day can make all the difference, such as trying out an online yoga video, or going for a walk outside.

It is our duty to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves, whilst educating others on taking the time to check in with themselves during this time of uncertainty.

On this theme, check out 'Achieving a Work-Life Balance as an Occupational Therapist' from CovalentCareers.

Social and Leisure Occupations

Occupational therapists are skilled in adapting activities - and we know how important social and leisure activities are! Human beings have an innate need to be close to friends and loved ones, not normally thinking twice before hugging or shaking hands with someone. Whilst OTs must educate clients on the importance of social distancing, we should also highlight the many alternative ways to be social, despite being apart. Instead of meeting someone for lunch, why not suggest video calling and preparing the same recipe together, or a virtual video streaming party with friends?


Many individuals are now having to work from home. If you haven’t done it before, there is definitely a learning curve that comes with working from home. It is important to find an area to work in that is comfortable, with a chair that promotes alignment of the spine, to optimise posture. Although it might seem nice to work from the bed or couch, OTs should educate the public about how to prevent injuries such as back/neck pain and diagnoses such as carpal tunnel syndrome. We can provide strategies to use while many work from home or participate in distance learning. Below are a few resources:

Health Promotion and Education

The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (AOTA, 2014) says it best; it is within our scope of practice to emphasise health promotion and well-being. During these challenging times, OTs should continue their role of promoting healthy habits and routines, thus helping the public to stay well and reduce rates of illness or disease. We must empower others to understand what is going on, keeping vulnerable populations out of harm's way. Reliable and trustworthy education - for healthcare workers, clients, neighbours and friends - is a vital part of combating this pandemic. Our profession is equipped with skills and knowledge to educate other health professionals and the general public.

Communicating with Children

Children face uncertainty and confusion in the current climate, with schools closed and differing routines. It can be difficult for children to understand why they aren’t having to go to school, or why they cannot see their friends. Occupational therapists (especially those working in paediatrics) understand how important it is to communicate with children and provide them with coping mechanisms. OTs are creative; we can use social stories, engaging handouts/activities and picture schedules, to educate children about what is going on. We can assist parents in ensuring children are still learning and sticking to some form of schedule.

During these unprecedented times, take care of yourself, follow guidelines and draw on your professional creativity, to bring your passion for helping others to a new level. Together, we can stay healthy, whilst also advocating for occupational therapy!

Sue Ram

Guest Writer, The Occupational Therapy Hub


American Occupational Therapy Association (2014) Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed). American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 68 (Suppl. 1), S1-S48.

Photos courtesy of Adobe Pixels Stock.

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