As occupational therapists, we see first-hand the immense significance of the language we use when interacting with our clients. It directly influences the quality of communication and ultimately affects the effectiveness of our therapeutic journey. Clarity is essential, as it reduces misunderstandings and promotes an atmosphere of trust and respect, crucial for building strong interpersonal relationships. For successful therapeutic outcomes, it’s imperative that our clients feel valued, heard, and safe, particularly when it comes to understanding diagnoses, treatment plans, and advice.

Certain terms in our profession can be misconstrued, leading to confusion or offense; consider the term “independence,” for instance. Not all clients can achieve complete autonomy, so instead, we prioritise facilitating meaningful fulfillment of occupations and empowering the person to voice their preferences in how and with whom they wish to engage.  It would therefore be foolish to describe occupational therapy as a profession that supports independence in its truest sense; instead ‘maximising independence’ if it is a client-centred goal, facilitating meaningful engagement, or indeed supporting carers to manage activities of daily living effectively and safely, are just as valid.

Patient receives confusing news.

Similarly, when supporting people who are ‘plus size’, it’s vital to understand that the term ‘bariatric’ refers to a branch of medicine, not body shape or lifestyle choice. Understanding the language the person is comfortable with, and having the confidence to discuss this, is more likely to enhance the therapeutic relationship.

Being sensitive to cultural differences is also crucial. Taking the time to research or ask the client about their specific cultural norms and appropriate language can foster a deeper connection and understanding.

The term ‘resilience’ is used regularly within the healthcare environment; it’s essential to be mindful of the challenges clients face, ensuring that they don’t feel pressured to overcome hurdles beyond their capacity. Additionally, in the context of mental health, using positive language and demonstrating empathy is vital, as it helps individuals understand that their experiences and conditions are valid and acknowledged.  Describing someone as resilient suggests that their ability to deal with sub-optimal systems or conditions is a strength, and those who are less resilient as weak, rather than acknowledging that the real issue is with the system or environment itself for example.

The language used in occupational therapy, and in healthcare generally, can significantly impact clients’ experiences and outcomes. Effective communication is the linchpin of the therapist-client relationship, and the choice of language can influence various facets of the therapeutic process. Clear, simple language is vital for clients to grasp their conditions, treatment plans, and therapy goals, without being overwhelmed by technical jargon.

Language that focuses on clients’ strengths and abilities empowers them, fostering an environment where they can actively participate in their rehabilitation.

Empathetic communication fosters trust and rapport, enabling clients to open up about their concerns and challenges. It’s essential to set realistic expectations, as honest communication prevents false hope and disappointment. Educating clients requires relatable language and clear explanations, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of their condition and self-management strategies.

Collaborative goal setting involves language that enables clients to express their aspirations and preferences. Documentation and communication with other healthcare providers necessitate precise and accurate language to ensure a coordinated approach to client care.

End of a meeting with a positive outcome.

In conclusion, inclusive language used in occupational therapy is a powerful tool that profoundly impacts clients. Effective communication fosters understanding, empowerment, motivation, cultural sensitivity, and trust, all of which are critical for positive therapeutic outcomes. Continuously refining communication skills is essential for enhancing clients’ experiences and progress in therapy.