The Power of Occupation Centered Assessment Tools

Years ago there was an initiative to increase the use of the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) at my workplace. I was familiar with the tool from school but honestly I’m not sure if I had ever used it in practice. I felt that I had honed my ability to both develop a strong occupational profile and to develop client centered goals. I knew my clients and what they wanted to focus on in OT… or so I thought. 

I gave the COPM a try… and it transformed my practice. I’ll never forget one client in particular. We’ll call him “Juan”. Juan was recovering from Guillain Barré syndrome. If you are unfamiliar with this syndrome it is an inflammatory neuropathy that is thought to be an immune response. Typically folks will have paralysis throughout their body. As people with Guillain Barré syndrome recover they usually participate in rehab to aid in their recovery. Many folks have a complete recovery. 

However, Juan was experiencing a very slow recovery. He had very limited arm and leg function and was using a wheelchair. His arms were so impaired he could not feed himself. Of course, as the occupational therapist I was spending a lot of time focusing on self-feeding. But Juan was not making much progress and didn’t seem to have a lot of motivation. It occurred to me that I needed to try something different. 

Juan and I did the COPM together. It turned out that he didn’t care about feeding himself at all. He had a wonderfully supportive family and they could help him with his ADLs. What Juan did care about was his work. Juan was a landlord and he was very worried about his buildings. Our therapy totally shifted after that… we no longer focused on ADLs and we started exploring strategies to help him become more involved in his business. 

The COPM is now a permanent fixture in my assessment battery. I use it with 99% of my clients. I have to admit work is a lot more fun when we are working on tennis, office organization, and knitting instead of arm exercises and sit to stands.

To hear more about the COPM check out this Moxie OT Podcast episode with Piper Hansen, OTD, OTR/L, BCPR.

To learn more about my favorite occupation centered assessments check out this resource

The COPM has a lot of great resources on their website


Law, M., Baptiste, S., Carswell, A., McColl, M. A., Polatajko, H., & Pollock, N. (2014). Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (5th edition). Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.