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Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics

The Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics was developed by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to document the core values and ethical principles that govern occupational therapy practice in the United States.
This document is maintained by AOTA and updated periodically. The Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics is proprietary information and the full document can be viewed through the AOTA website.

This chart provides main points and examples from the Code of Ethics for study purposes.

Core Values

Value Description Example
Altruism Altruism is the unselfish concern for the welfare of others. This concept is reflected in actions and attitudes of commitment, caring, dedication, responsiveness, and understanding.

– Demonstrating concern for the welfare of others.

1. An OT asks her patient how the patient is feeling during the OT session.

2. An OTA helps a patient make a card for his wife on her birthday and buys flowers for the patient to give to his wife.

Equality Equality requires that all individuals be perceived as having the same fundamental human rights and opportunities. This value is demonstrated by an attitude of fairness and impartiality. We believe that we should respect all individuals, keeping in mind that they may have values, beliefs, or life styles that are different from our own. Equality is practiced in the broad professional arena, but is particularly important in day-to-day interactions with those individuals receiving occupational therapy services.

– Treating all people impartially and free of bias.

1. An OT clinic accepts all patients who have a physician’s referral for OT regardless of race, gender, ethnic background, lifestyle, etc.

2. An OT running a group ,has a personality clash with one of the patients. Despite her personal feelings about this patient, the OT treats him as she would, another patient – with respect.

Freedom Freedom allows the individual to exercise choice and to demonstrate independence, initiative, and self-direction. Purposeful activity plays a major role in developing and exercising self-direction, initiative, interdependence, and relatedness to the world. Activities verify the individual’s ability to adapt, and they establish a satisfying balance between autonomy and societal membership. As professionals, we affirm the freedom of choice for each individual to pursue goals that have personal and social meaning.

– Patients are given personal choices based on their values and desires.

1. An OTA agrees to set up a home exercise program for an outpatient who prefers to complete her therapy at home as she has young children.

2. An OTA working with a male patient is told by that patient that he does not want to participate in a cooking activity as it is a “woman’s job!” The OTA gives the patient choices of other activities which could be used instead of cooking, and would achieve the same treatment goals.

Justice Justice places value on the upholding of such moral and legal principles as fairness, equity, truthfulness, and objectivity. This means we aspire to provide occupational therapy services for all individuals who are in need of these services and that we will maintain a goal-directed and objective relationship with all those served. Practitioners must be knowledgeable about and have respect for the legal rights of individuals receiving occupational therapy services. In addition, the occupational therapy practitioner must understand and abide by the local, state, and federal laws governing professional practice.

– Diverse communities are inclusive, structured, and organized so that all members can function, flourish, and live satisfactory lives.

1. An OT facilitates a multiple sclerosis support group, making sure each member has time to tell his or her story without monopolizing more group time than the other members.

2. An OTA working in a long term care facility is given an expensive gift by a patient. The OTA does not accept the gift as it would unduly influence the therapeutic relationship or have the potential to blur professional boundaries.

3. An OTA notices a disabled homeless man struggling to walk, and establishes that he would benefit from OT intervention. The OTA approaches the man and offers to help him obtain a referral for OT Services at the local clinic, where she works. The clinic offers pro-bono services to those in need.

Dignity Dignity emphasizes the importance of valuing the inherent worth and uniqueness of each person. This value is demonstrated by an attitude of empathy and respect for self and others. We view human beings holistically, respecting the unique interaction of the mind, body, and physical and social environment. We believe that dignity is nurtured and grows from the sense of competence and self-worth that is integrally linked to the person’s ability to perform valued and relevant activities. In occupational therapy we emphasize the importance of dignity by helping the individual build on his or her unique attributes and resources.

– Treat all patients with respect at all times.

1. An OTA escorts a woman with Alzheimer’s disease back to her room, patiently answering the same question 5 times and addressing the patient by her name.

2. While working with a patient on bed-wheelchair transfers, the OTA draws the curtain around the patient’s bed / ensures that the patient is fully covered, so that she does not expose herself to other patients in the ward.

Truth Truth requires that we be faithful to facts and reality. Truthfulness or veracity is demonstrated by being accountable, honest, forthright, accurate, and authentic in our attitudes and actions. There is an obligation to be truthful with ourselves, those who receive services, colleagues, and society. One way that this is exhibited is through maintaining and upgrading professional competence. This happens, in part, through an unfaltering commitment to inquiry and learning, to self-understanding and to the development of an interpersonal competence.

– Provide accurate information in oral, written and electronic forms in all situations.

1. While writing an initial evaluation report, an OT documents that she did not test cognitive skills, rather than writing that cognition appeared normal.

2. When the director of the facility in which an OT is employed is asked if her OT license is valid, for that state, the OT answers honestly even if she has forgotten to renew her license.

Prudence Prudence is the ability to govern and discipline oneself through the use of reason. To be prudent is to value judiciousness, discretion, vigilance, moderation, care, and circumspection in the management of one’s affairs, to temper extremes, make judgments and respond on the basis of intelligent reflection and rational thought.

– Use clinical and ethical reasoning skills, sound judgement, and reflection to make decisions in professional and volunteer roles.

1. An OTA determines that a patient is not yet ready to complete ADL tasks without supervision after observing the patient retrieving ADL items in an unsafe manner.

2. An OT has achieved her goals with a patient’s intervention. The following day, as the patient is about to be discharged from the hospital, she notices that he is struggling to negotiate stairs. The OT asks the patient to wait for her while she speaks to the physician about her concerns.The patient is at risk for injuring himself, especially when using public transport.