OccupationalTherapy.com Phone: 866-782-9924

A Strength-Based Approach in Occupational Therapy

A Strength-Based Approach in Occupational Therapy
Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
June 16, 2023

Man in a wheelchair painting

Ableism is the preference for non-disabled people and is a pervasive issue in society. The antidote to ableism in occupational therapy practice lies in a strength-based approach. This approach focuses on clients' assets and abilities and is rooted in positive psychology.

Moving Beyond the Medical Model

The medical model, which often emphasizes deficit-based care and overcoming disabilities, is prevalent in occupational therapy. This reimbursement model incentivizes clinicians to focus heavily on their clients’ impairments rather than acknowledge and build upon their strengths.

A strength-based model works in conjunction with a biopsychosocial model and/or social model of disability to provide well-rounded, inclusive care. 

A prime example is the ASD NEST program in public schools in New York City. It emphasizes strengths and social-emotional skills development while promoting inclusion for students with autism. 

Incorporating Strength-Based Approaches

To incorporate strength-based approaches in occupational therapy, practitioners should include disability advocates on clinical and research teams. The clients OTPs work with can be a rich source of the clinicians’ continued education since they can share their lived experiences. 

Interest inventories and organizational needs assessments can identify and build on clients’ strengths by leveraging their interests. OTPs can use this information to create interest-based interventions. 

For example, an OTP can design an after-school club for children with social anxiety related to their interests (e.g., creating comic books). Here, socialization can occur naturally, as opposed to a social skills club that addresses skill development as a primary focus. 

OTPs can also collaborate with clients to set goals and design personalized interventions that include teaching self-advocacy skills and education on their condition.

These strategies ensure diverse perspectives, valuable insights, accessibility, and genuine motivation among clients.

Becoming a Reflective Practitioner

As a profession committed to occupational justice, occupational therapists promote both meaning and quality of life for our clients. It's crucial to analyze how we practice and the impact on clients. 

Reflect on your own practice by asking a series of questions to identify biases and determine where you can improve on becoming strength-based. 

  • Is there a bias toward ableism in this practice area or work setting?
  • Am I only working to remediate weaknesses?
  • Have I sought feedback from clients who have been recipients of occupational therapy?
  • Have I had discussions with people from the community of clients I work with to better understand their lived experiences? 
  • Am I working to adapt my client’s environment before I work on changing them?
  • Am I using potentially harmful language or labels?
  • Am I grouping people together instead of treating them as individuals?
  • Do I know my clients' strengths, interests, and areas for improvement?
  • Do I consider my clients' preferences and priorities when designing interventions and groups?
  • How can I collaborate with my clients to set goals that are meaningful to them?

Benefits of a Strength-Based Approach

A strength-based approach offers many benefits for clients and practitioners alike. By emphasizing clients' strengths and capabilities, this approach empowers clients and fosters their self-efficacy. 

Tailored, meaningful interventions enhance client engagement and motivation. Having a self-reflective practice, as well as encouraging our peers to reevaluate their practice and embrace strength-based methods, is key to creating a more inclusive, supportive, and therapeutic environment.


Continued’s OccupationalTherapy.com (2023). Making Your Practice Strengths-based Podcast.

elisabeth bahr

Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L

Liz Bahr is an occupational therapist, writer, professor, and yoga therapist. She is a neurodiverse-affirming, neurodivergent OTP committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable world for all. She graduated from Boston University's Occupational Therapy Post-Professional Doctorate and New York University, Master of Science programs. She is currently a Master of Creative Writing student at Harvard Extension.

In her clinical practice, she focuses on merging creativity and occupation to improve the quality of life for adolescents and young adults. She has undergone additional training in ADHD and uses this knowledge to help her clients develop strategies and reach their goals. She is also a certified yoga therapist and uses yoga to help her clients improve their physical and mental health.

Liz is a sought-after speaker and writer on occupational therapy, ADHD, and creativity. She has presented at conferences and workshops nationwide, and her work has been featured in national publications. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with others to help them live their best lives.

You can find her on LinkedIn or at her wellness practice, pegasuswellness.co. She also writes for Continued.com.

Related Courses

ADHD In Action: Empowering Occupational Therapy Practitioners In Elementary Schools
Presented by Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
Course: #5988Level: Introductory1 Hour
Rehabilitation professionals working with children with ADHD in school settings will be educated on evidence-based strategies and creative interventions in this workshop. Participants will explore practical approaches to support these children in achieving academic success, enhancing social skills, and optimizing their school function.

ADHD In Adolescence: Enhancing Success For Middle And High School Students
Presented by Elisabeth Bahr, OTD, MS, OT/L
Course: #5991Level: Introductory1 Hour
Occupational therapists working with middle and high school adolescents with ADHD are provided with evidence-based strategies and interventions in this 1-hour workshop. Participants will explore practical approaches to support these students in achieving academic success, enhancing social skills, and managing their symptoms effectively in a more complex school environment.

Electrical Stimulation for Recovery of Function in Neurorehabilitation
Presented by Rebecca Martin, OTR/L, OTD, CPAM, CKTP
Course: #3840Level: Intermediate1 Hour
This course will describe the different mechanisms of action for electrical stimulation to restore function in patients with neurological dysfunction. Using case studies and best evidence, participants will learn how to design and execute interventions with electrical stimulation useful in neurorehabiliation.

Joint Hypermobility Syndromes: Assessment and Intervention
Presented by Valeri Calhoun, MS, OTR/L, CHT
Course: #5376Level: Intermediate1 Hour
This course will cover upper extremity assessment and treatment strategies for the pediatric/young adult population affected by joint hypermobility syndromes. The treatment focuses on both orthopedic strategies along with adaptive methods for these individuals.

Disability Inclusion: What Healthcare Providers Need To Know
Presented by Kathryn Sorensen, OTD, OTR/L, ADAC
Course: #5632Level: Introductory1 Hour
As a person with a disability and an occupational therapist, I have a unique perspective of living in two worlds. In this course, I will share my personal experience and things I wish healthcare providers knew and understood about living with a disability.

Our site uses cookies to improve your experience. By using our site, you agree to our Privacy Policy.