Evidence-Based Practice in Occupational Therapy

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Understanding how to practice occupational therapy based on evidence is an important part of adhering to best practices. This lesson discusses what it means to used evidence-based practices in the context of occupational therapy.

Understanding Evidence-Based Practice

Sadie has been an occupational therapist for five years, and she is always looking for ways to improve her practice and the outcomes her patients are able to achieve.

Lately, Sadie has become especially interested in evidence-based practice. In other words, she wants to use techniques and strategies that have been empirically proven to be effective in the population she usually works with.

Sadie knows that evidence-based practice is important in all branches of medicine and therapeutic treatments. In occupational therapy, evidence-based practice allows the practitioner to help patients improve their occupational profiles, sensory capacities, and ability to participate in the normal activities that are most important to them.

Practice Guidelines

Sadie learns that the American Occupational Therapists' Association has published several lists of practices that are evidence-based within the realm of occupational therapy.

There are practice guidelines, or suggestions for how OTs might incorporate information from evidence into their regular practice. Sadie learns that the purpose of practice guidelines is to:

  • Offer guidance to practitioners who want to provide and communicate about strong OT interventions
  • Help those outside the field understand the purpose of and science behind OT
  • Help researchers and policy-makers ask good questions and draw conclusions based on empirical evidence
  • Promote curriculum and instruction of new OTs who are familiar with the evidence, and
  • Help researchers think about future questions for investigation

Specialized Topics

Sadie knows that OTs deal with a diverse range of issues and patients, and she discovers that there are guidelines for evidence-based practice in a variety of specialized areas.


Many OTs work with children and adolescents. Evidence-based practices with these populations include awareness of the sensory needs of a patient with autism spectrum disorder. They also suggest the need for strong school-based practices and integration of the OT into the regular school life of the child when relevant. Evidence for pediatric patients helps Sadie remember that she should choose developmentally appropriate tools and activities.

Mental Health

Evidence-based practice also deals with the integration of mental and emotional health into OT practice. For example, when Sadie is working with a patient who has been traumatized, evidence suggests that she should not touch the patient as part of their practice together.

Sadie is also careful about incorporating evidence-based stress management techniques into her OT work. Mental health also encompasses cognitive well-being. Evidence suggests that when Sadie works with patients who have dementia, she should provide them with visual memory tools and work in concert with their other caregivers to help them remember exercises.


Much of Sadie's work as an OT has to do with rehabilitation of her patients after a significant injury or medical event like a stroke. One of the most important pieces of evidence in this realm indicates that Sadie should always start her rehabilitative work by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the patient's motor impairments as well as cognitive issues. The assessment should then inform the goals she sets as well as the activities and tools she uses toward meeting this goal.

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