The Collaborative Roles of Therapist and Therapy Assistant

Posted on November 16th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

The Collaborative Roles of Therapist and Therapy Assistant


Denise Koonce OTR

Over my twenty years as an occupational therapist I have had the great pleasure to work with and supervise a number of certified occupational therapy assistants.  What a journey it has been! Fortunately, I learned early on that the therapist/therapy assistant partnership was very synergistic.  By having two individuals focused on the same goal, while discussing, problem solving, and working together, their combined product offers a much greater outcome than would their individual efforts.  I was in for an enormous growth curve during my first year as a supervising OTR.  I had to improve my communication, documentation, demonstration, and listening skills.  I also had to be more aware of my body language and made sure to check my pride at the door.  The process of becoming a supervisor lead me down many paths, some easy and some not so easy, but I came out on the other end a better therapist and individual for doing so.  I consider it a privilege to have journeyed down those paths because I learned a great deal about those with whom I worked, my profession, and myself.

Despite all the benefits of becoming a supervisor, some individuals are hesitant to take that next step.  They believe they are not ready professionally, or do not yet have the experience necessary to supervise.  I became a supervising OTR about a year after I had graduated but I was fortunate that the two COTA’s I supervised had been in the profession for numerous years and I learned volumes from both of them.  They were patient with me as I began to try and learn the role of supervisor despite my lack of experience.  As the supervisor, your role is to disseminate knowledge and information, problem solve, and project forward progress by creating goals along with the therapy assistant and the patient.   The supervisor must be able to listen intently to the input from the assistant and interpret the information to finalize or further complete the treatment plan.  In addition, as in my case, the supervisor must also have an open mind in order to learn from the therapy assistant.  The therapy assistant’s responsibility or role is to provide the direct treatment competently, follow thru with the treatment plan, document the patient’s progress and/or inform the supervisor when progress is not being made.  The therapy assistant must also bring to the collaborative role a willingness to learn and a realization of the areas where their own growth is needed.  With the right attitude and partnership both the supervisor and therapy assistant can grow professionally. 

Others believe supervising is too time consuming or requires too much extra work.  Supervising does require time and work, but if the collaboration between the two professionals occurs appropriately, then the work is no greater than your own caseload.  There are extra benefits as well when you have a collaborative partnership.  Especially in a home health environment, the therapist/therapy assistant partnership is extra meaningful because you now have an individual you can bounce treatment ideas off of or problem solve what is the best approach to use.  In addition, helping to instill confidence in a co- worker thru mentoring can be a very rewarding.  For example, when you hear in their voice or see during a treatment session, the great “ah ha”, and you know that they’ve got it; it is a wonderfully rewarding feeling.  Or when you receive the phone call and the person on the other end is so excited about the progress of a patient based on what each of you had been working so hard towards. 

Despite whether you are an occupational, physical or speech therapist, opportunities exist for you to serve in a supervisory role.  I encourage you, if you are given the opportunity to supervise, do not miss out by deciding against it, but embrace it as an incredible dynamic journey of learning and professional growth.  If you have a special experience from your therapist/therapy assistant collaboration, please share it with us!

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