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Occupational Therapists: Agents of Change

Occupational therapists as agents of change

An important role of an occupational therapist is to be an advocate for their patients and to be an agent of change. Occupational therapists are armed with evidence-based practice and a client-centered focus to create the change we wish to see. Occupational therapists have many roles including advocate, teacher, researcher, therapist, manager, and program developer. Through advocacy, we can promote occupational and social justice at the meso level, with the goal to create macro level changes. At the micro level, we can impact individuals as teachers to educate future occupational therapy practitioners and as practicing occupational therapists to improve functional skills in our patients to enhance a positive recovery from a physical or mental health condition. In a researcher role, we can contribute to a wider knowledge to change how services are delivered and to begin the process of policy change at the meso level. Program development, such as starting needed service lines, create micro change in our facility that can lead to meso and macro service delivery changes nationally. As a manager, we can foster growth in our therapists' skills at a micro level to help them become more impactful and improve patient care. 


My current path is that of a program developer, a doctoral student, a researcher, and a treating therapist. The development of a cognitive behaviorally-based mental health occupational therapy service line at my hospital led me to discover the benefits of this treatment approach. I noticed how much better many of my patients were getting, evident by the pre- and post-administration of the COPM. They were returning to work, getting their chores done with less effort, attending social events without fear, bonding better with their babies, accomplishing more at school and work, exercising and eating healthier, participating in valued leisure activities, getting better sleep, and improving overall self-care due to learning cognitive strategies that improved performance and satisfaction in meaningful activities.


I feel it is my duty as an occupational therapist and human being to report on a positive and evidence-based approach for recovery from mental illness that is inclusive and accessible for all people. Through my research, I found that 90% of children, youth, and adults, taken as a whole, improve performance and satisfaction in meaningful occupations when a cognitive behavioral frame of reference was incorporated into treatment in an outpatient setting. There is a void of research for use of this approach, that is, there is no research to be located for this treatment in this setting. To not report on a treatment that improves recovery to such an extent that people are able to participate in their daily lives successfully again and that is reimbursable by all insurance carriers seemed to me to be a social injustice. That is what drove me to initiate and grow the mental health service line at my hospital and it is what drives me to complete my doctoral program. I seek to become an action-oriented agent of change by promoting this treatment through publication of my research and continued advocacy for individuals living with a mental health condition. 


                      You too can be an agent of change!

Global Vision and Reflection of the Occupational Therapy Profession

As we make a return to our mental health roots, there is a global movement to address mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the already underlying mental health pandemic. Countries all over the world have turned their focus to preventing mental health disability and promoting recovery from mental illness. 

As occupational therapists, we have a chance to advocate for our patients and provide input for funding allocation and legislation for mental health services. We have an opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy of occupational therapy in improving outcomes and quality of life for those living with a mental health condition. 


The transformation can start with ourselves, accepting the dynamism of the profession, and creating a space of equality and inclusivity in our daily work and life. We can vote, create and sign petitions, and collaborate with our peers to promote the holistic and beneficial occupational therapy field on a national level. We can stay up to date with government organizations and their causes and learn from occupational therapists across the globe to improve our treatment and service processes. 


This is an exciting time to be an occupational therapist! We have an opportunity to be at the forefront of implementing mental health programming and with determining the direction of this momentum for improving mental health. Occupational therapy has gone through many transformations, and it feels as though we are at the pivotal moment of our next evolution.  

The Impact of My Doctoral Coursework on a Global Vision

I have learned so much in such a short time about social and occupational justice, social policy, and disability and what it means to be an agent of change. My recent coursework has prompted reflection on the responsibility we take on as occupational therapists. We have an obligation to contribute to the greater global vision of a healthy and productive society. Occupational therapists use occupation and actions to create change not only in their immediate work, but as part of a global trend. 


There are many organizations that dedicate their work to improving the quality of life of individuals living with a mental health or physical disability, and it has truly inspired me. I’ve learned how to begin the change process and the importance of an occupational therapist’s work. I’ve learned about disability history and how it has changed across time. A door has been opened where I can see the beginnings of a path to change and forward progress. I have been privileged to be able to learn from occupational therapy professors who themselves demonstrate the path to change through their research, commitment to their students, and continued work in the occupational therapy field. I feel empowered and supported by my peers as we continue this journey of learning and progress together. 

Monica Jones
About the author 
Monica Jones, MS OTR/L, PMH-C
post-professional OTD candidate

I am a practicing occupational therapist living in Bishop, California and have been practicing since 2014. I received my Master's of Science in Occupational Therapy from Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina in 2014 and am currently a doctoral student through Boston University. I received my Perinatal Mental Health Certificate (PMH-C) from Postpartum Support International (PSI) in 2022 and am an approved provider for individuals living with a perinatal mental health condition. I work with children, teens, and adults to improve functional skills affected by a mental health condition by integrating a cognitive behavioral approach. 

My current research is on the efficacy of using a cognitive behavioral approach to improve performance and satisfaction in meaningful activities, roles, and routines in the outpatient occupational therapy setting. I hope to increase awareness of using this approach as a positive treatment to improve recovery from a mental health condition. My goal is for this treatment to become widely used by promoting my research findings so that more occupational therapists can be empowered to help more people in our communities and abroad recover from mental illness through incorporation of an evidence-based approach.




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