I recently had lunch with two Occupational Therapists and we found ourselves in a slightly uncomfortable moment recognizing the mutual suspicion that exists between our fields. Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs) both work to improve children’s lives but through different approaches with different underlying philosophies. In my experience, OT’s bring a gentle, flexible and empathetic feel to their approach. Behavior Analysts, however, can sometimes come across as rigid and a bit fanatical about data and research.
The thing is, Behavior Analysts are trained to think like scientists – question everything and don’t believe it unless you have the data to prove it. We take a lot of pride in our objective, analytic nature. And we are fanatical about the science because we see that it works and it changes lives! But sometimes that passionate dedication to the science comes across in the wrong way (sometimes even arrogant). The science of Behavior Analysis is very powerful but if we can’t effectively communicate it in the real world it won’t have much of an impact. We have to share the science of behavior in a way that draws people in; it must be centered around relationships, connection and collaboration.
We need science and data but we also desperately need human Connection and Collaboration.
So much of the success of any therapeutic approach is the success of the particular practitioner/client relationship. If humans feel connected, heard and understood they will be more open to that particular practitioners approach. When people feel judged, misunderstood or rushed they might be more resistant to the guidance and expertise of that persons approach. Connection is key!
Collaboration is another essential ingredient. When a client is struggling, sometimes they need a whole team. When addressing things like communication, challenging behaviors, self-regulation, and social/emotional skills there are many therapeutic paths. Humans are complicated creatures and we need support in many different areas. Bringing diverse practitioners together to collaborate will have the greatest impact. Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Pathologists, Psychologists, Doctors, Therapists, Social Workers, Teachers, and Behavior Analysts all have unique strengths to bring to the table. We are often working towards the same goals even if we see things differently and use different terms. The team should try to understand each other’s language and appreciate each other’s specialties. We all have a piece of the puzzle and if we work together we will see more growth for our clients and our fields. We have so much to learn from each other. We cannot underestimate the importance and impact of collaboration between practitioners; humanity makes more progress when we learn to understand different perspectives.
Personally, I have learned so much over the years from other practitioners (SLP, OT, Special Ed teachers…) both professionally and as a parent. Collaboration has taught me to see beyond my own perspective. Sometimes it’s awkward and uncomfortable; sometimes you can tangibly feel the discord. When I was speaking to the OT’s over lunch about our mutual suspicion, it wasn’t completely comfortable but it created an open door to hear each other’s point of view and recognize that we operate in different ways but that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground and work together.
Yes, I have seen the benefit that OT provides for many kids; AND I will continue to ask for the research and data to understand how it works (I just can’t ignore my fanatical desire for data). Fundamentally, I respect other therapeutic approaches and I recognize the incredible importance of our ongoing connection and collaboration.