Supporting Women in Life and Work

As a woman and a mother, I understand the challenges that come with juggling family, career and everyday life. What I also know to be true, is that it is possible to “have it all”, with the right support. Throughout my journey to achieve professional freedom and satisfaction, I have consistently seen the benefits of providing women with the tools and autonomy to thrive, in all aspects of their lives.

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” – Brene Brown

In 2002, pregnant with my first child, I needed a change. I constantly felt that bureaucracy and red tape were getting in the way of providing my clients with the best outcomes. I realised I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the #alliedhealth system and took the courageous step to begin my own occupational therapy private practice.

The path wasn’t always smooth, but I was convinced I could be doing more. I wanted to provide other therapists with the same freedom and satisfaction I had found for myself. While franchising in allied health was – and still is – practically unheard of, I did just that. In 2012 I founded Australia’s first and only occupational therapy franchise business, ActivOT, which now has over 50 franchisees and is continuously growing throughout Australia.

“Amazing things happen when women help other women” – Kasia Gospos

In my previous workplaces, prior to starting ActivOT, I often felt like the “boys club” was a huge roadblock and that despite the fact that occupational therapy is a largely female-dominated industry, I was constantly fighting against preconceived biases based on my gender. I have proven to myself that I am a strong and innovative trailblazer in my field, and I see it as my responsibility to empower my franchisees and my support staff to back themselves, by providing them with the tools to do so.

I firmly believe that women shouldn’t be labelled based on outdated mindsets. Our time is less valued than men’s, and women-dominated industries often earn less. In an industry where a level of care is involved, our behaviour is unfairly scrutinised that isn’t placed on our male counterparts. Some women also face wild inequity when it comes to domestic responsibilities too. It’s a minefield, but I’ve seen the benefits of cultivating an environment where women are supported – and encouraged-  to “have it all”.

Over the last ten years since founding ActivOT, I have witnessed how flexibility within a traditionally bureaucratic system has helped my franchisees, many of them also mothers, thrive both professionally and personally and become successful business owners. More than that, I have been able to provide them with a community that is supportive, where resources – and values – are shared. As a result, we have #occupationaltherapists who are advocates for their community, along with the capabilities to provide their clients with the best possible care.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails” – Dolly Parton

We’ve seen so much change to the way people work, particularly over the past few years, with flexibility becoming more and more important, particularly to women in the workforce. Mothers returning to work face many struggles, feeling pressured to return to the workforce before they are ready and the cost and availability of childcare at war with one another. An inflexible workplace, only adds to the burden many women carry of the #mentalload of daily admin, schedules and housework.

As a woman and a mother, I have personally faced these challenges and have experienced the burnout that comes from (unsuccessfully) trying to juggle everything. I have also experienced the difference that flexibility makes from my time in #privatepractice, and have wholeheartedly grasped the opportunity to provide real work/life balance to my franchisees and support staff. It is so rewarding to be able to see women pursuing their passions outside of their professional life, to enable mothers to spend more time with their children and foster a culture of support within the ActivOT team.

“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher” – Oprah Winfrey

Having a strong set of values that guide me is the key to the success and sustainability of ActivOT as a business. I want ActivOT to be the best provider of #occupationaltherapy services in Australia and to do that we need to bring like-minded therapists onto the team. Therapists who put the client at the centre of everything they do and who are passionate about helping people.

Each of my franchisees has their own business, works their own hours and follows their areas of passion within occupational therapy. I see ActivOT less as a franchise and more as a pooling of resources, allowing the OTs to lean into each other’s strengths and providing them with the opportunity to broaden their knowledge. Any business growth is a happy by-product.

How does your workplace support both your personal and professional goals? How can this support be improved? What does flexibility mean for you? You can comment on the original article on LinkedIn.


Women supporting women

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” — Madeleine Albright, 1937-2022

Politics and controversy aside, Madeleine Albright had a remarkable career. She’ll be remembered by this generation for her ‘revolutionary’ declaration that women must support each other – or a special place in hell is reserved just for them.

I’m not sure I agree about that place in hell, but as a woman and a founder I believe that women should lift other women up – in all aspects of life. There’s no denying, though, that we live within a culture which supports the stereotype that women don’t support other women. The ‘cat-fight’ so widely portrayed in fiction is alive and well in real life.

Within the female-led industry I’m a part of I’m offered plenty of opportunities to help and support other women, but it isn’t always reciprocated. There are plenty of ‘mean girls’ and ‘queen bees’ (not to be confused with strong, ambitious women – which we are all for) in Allied Health who are quick to push other women down. In fact, the health industry has the second highest incidence of workplace bullying in Australia.

Why does this culture exist?

If you create more inequality in work arrangements, the temptation to abuse power becomes greater and greater.’ – Michael Quinlan

Bullying in the workplace is rife, with an increasing number of women reporting being bullied – more often by other women. Organisations are built to encourage it. The larger the organisation, the more likely it is to be structured with built-in scarcity of power, influence and opportunity, which in turn leads to women competing against each other for position and recognition.

In other words, women are still struggling with systemic inequality. We’ve had to fight for every ‘right’ and we still have a long way to go. We’re expected to perform work which is below our abilities and we have fewer opportunities for advancement – the pressure is huge. It’s no excuse, but it is a very human thing to fight for resources.

The cost to individual women of ‘queen bee’ culture can be devastating, but the cost to women, collectively, is greater – we’re all familiar with what those costs are.

What happens when we lift each other up – what’s the collective benefit of a ‘sisterhood’. We know what the ‘boys club’ has done for men, but what would happen for us if we joined forces instead of vying for position and power?

The impact that women can have on the world when we work together is far-reaching and more important than ever before. New research shows that women thrive when we have each other’s backs. In fact, a close, trusted circle of female contacts are critical to women in leadership positions. The kind of circle that women can trust to discuss private issues that only affect women.

I see the power of women helping women in action in my own business. ActivOT has more than 45 women practitioners – all strong and successful women. ActivOT practitioners thrive because of our culture of support. When one of us falls down, the others are there to lift them up. It goes further than that – we’re all committed to collaborating with other women in business as well as learning from them. Together, we really are stronger!

How do you feel about supporting other women? Have you experienced support from other women in your work life? What impact has this had on your career? I’d love to hear about the ways other women have made a difference in your work life. You can comment on the original article on LinkedIn.


How do OTs achieve work-life balance?

Helen Whait, ActivOT founder and franchisor, is a dedicated mother of three boys. She wrote this article about how ActivOT has transformed her work-life balance: 

2022 marks fifteen years since I started ActivOT and ten years since I launched the business as a franchise. Back in 2007, with the birth of my third son, I knew I needed to redesign my work life so that I could be the kind of mother I’d always wanted to be.

They say that women are expected to parent like we don’t have a career, and to have careers like we don’t have children. Women know how impossible it is to do this without a support network – and even with an army of helpers we can become overwhelmed and burnt out.

We shouldn’t have to choose between career and family, but as OTs we’re too often expected to compromise one, or the other, or both – putting aside our own needs for the sake of family and clients or employers. We are professionals that care for others, but often we compromise on self-care.

Having worked in traditional OT roles previously, as well as having had experience with employing OTs as a private practitioner, I’m all-too-well-familiar the practical challenges that both employees and private practitioners face – as well as the opportunities for empowerment and a satisfying, balanced life.

With the ActivOT franchise, I set out to create a community of like-minded practitioners that would support each other in their journeys as therapists, parents and people. Support and resources – professional and personal – can be the biggest barriers to long term success for OTs in private practice. The ActivOT business model is designed so that each private practitioner has all of the practical things they need to thrive and succeed – proven business systems – as well as support in the form of coaching and mentoring.

The goal I always kept top of mind has been for ActivOT practitioners to be able to practice their core values alongside the freedom to be there for those crucial times in their families’ lives. Those magical, important moments in their children’s days – for the after school ‘download’, sports, music performances and graduations.

ActivOT practitioners are strongly encouraged to prioritise self-care – not just the kind of ‘time out’ activities like pampering days, but meaningful, satisfying ‘getting needs met’ kind of self-care that truly ‘fills the cup’. That in itself – discovering what self-care means to us – can be a body of work – but an important one!

My sons are almost fully grown now, and I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to be present for them. There are also more than 40 ActivOT franchises in South Australia and South East Queensland – most of these are owned and operated by women with families. The community that we’ve built supports each other to make balance between work life and family life easier.

Getting here hasn’t been a straight line. There have been major bumps in the road for me personally, including a life-threatening illness that reinforced my need for rest and recovery. The biggest lesson has been to surround myself with the right network of people – professionally and personally – and to ask for help when faced with new challenges. Together, we’re stronger.

I’d love to hear from OT mums about how they’ve found a balance between career and motherhood. What are some of the day to day challenges you face and how do you manage these?

Telehealth to continue for veterans

Helen Whait, ActivOT founder and franchisor, is an active member of the Occupational Therapy Australia Department of Veteran Affairs National Reference Group. She writes this important update for our DVA clients.

“In my role on reference group, I’ve been working hard to ensure veterans and war widows have continued access to the telehealth introduced in 2020 as a temporary Covid-19 measure.

I’m so pleased to announce that from 1st January 2022, telehealth options for the veteran community have been made a permanent addition to the OT schedule.

The reference group experienced a minor blip along the way to this decision; OTs were not able to claim for completing the forms required to access equipment and home modifications for veterans. Fighting strongly, through OTA, was successful in having this issue rectified.

OTs can also claim an OT50 for any telehealth consultation completed from 1st January 2022.

However there is still a larger issue at play. DVA will not allow OTs to provide a telehealth consult for an initial consultation.

In our current Covid world this makes no sense to me! Every 12 months or 12 sessions (whichever comes sooner) we need to get a new referral to provide services to our veterans and/or war widows.

Currently, the way things stand, OTs are required to complete a face to face consultation at the commencement of each referral. There are many scenarios where this causes unnecessary obstacles – including the very likely scenario in which an OT has seen a veteran face to face only a few weeks prior but has subsequently run out of sessions.

By insisting on a “face to face” consultation, we’re potentially placing this vulnerable client group at risk. Many veterans are elderly and many have (multiple) comorbidities. Why insist on a face to face consultation if it increases risk?

My position is that the OT who knows the veteran is best placed to make the call as to the most appropriate method of service delivery to ensure the veteran goals are met, their needs are attended to in a timely manner and the risks are managed.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you on this issue!”

To offer your feedback on this important issue, please email

Edited with an update regarding initial consultations. The following message came through from Occupational Therapy Australia on 17 February, 2022:

“We are currently working with Services Australia to implement new initial consultation and aids assessment telehealth items. It is anticipated that these will be available to claim within the next two weeks. DVA asks that providers do not claim for initial consultations or aids assessments delivered by telehealth until the new items are available in the system.”

Franchising in Occupational Therapy with ActivOT

I’m pretty thrilled to share that I was recently named a finalist in the 2020-21 Allied Health Leadership & Management Excellence Awards for my work creating Australia’s first occupational therapy (OT) franchise, ActivOT.

It’s wonderful news. But instead of just sharing the news, I’d like to share five nuggets of hard-earned wisdom I’ve learned along the way—I hope you find them helpful.

But first, some background: I’m the founder of ActivOT, Australia’s first—and only—private practice occupational therapy franchise. I’m proud to say I was the first entrepreneur to adopt the franchise model in occupational therapy, and one of very few entrepreneurs using the franchise model in a healthcare related business in Australia.

Why did I start ActivOT?

For a few reasons, but mainly it was my time working as a senior occupational therapist within governmental domiciliary care that left me fiercely determined to push the boundaries of OT service provision.

I saw, first-hand, a system dogged by incidents of misconduct and the poor treatment of the frail, elderly and those with long term care needs. So I blew the whistle, brought the misconduct to light and ultimately decided to build a business aligned with my values.

My vision for ActivOT was to build a business that helps OTs spend less time pushing paper and more time caring for people.

I set out to provide a service that gives clients more stability— to ‘shut the revolving door’ which frustrates clients who are constantly explaining their health to new therapists and which is also heartbreaking for the therapists who never get to see the fruits of their labour.

I sought out an efficient model that not only helps patients but creates opportunities for colleagues in occupational therapy to start their own businesses…the franchise model was exactly what the doctor ordered!

In 2007, ActivOT was born. We now have over 30 franchises across Australia and are always looking for occupational therapists interested in joining our team and starting their own business.

So, with that brief introduction, here are five key lessons from my career so far.

Choose your model and look outside your industry

Before I launched ActivOT, franchising occupational therapy practice was unheard of.

Ultimately, franchising is a win for my business because it’s scalable. It’s a win for the client because they are getting the stability of a highly skilled practitioner workforce (my team of therapists sign up for five years). And it’s a win for occupational therapists who get to see their clients progress and thrive.

My advice? Forget what everyone else is doing and look outside your industry or sector for inspiration. Adapt your business model accordingly.

Don’t let fear paralyse you

In 2018 I committed to leadership coaching with The Edge PR. This gave me the skills to adjust my mindset and overcome anything holding me back – especially fear.

Reframing things in my mind, having the courage to back myself and move through fear has been the biggest game-changer for me—professionally and personally.

Don’t let the fear of risk stop you from achieving your dreams.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Many businesses struggle due to a lack of planning at all levels. Without planning, the entire team will struggle for direction. A lack of direction means, as their leader, I spend time putting out fires instead of taking purposeful action. Doing business without planning is very much like taking a journey without a map. I’m a big planner.

Get clear on your vision, assemble the right team around you and prioritise like a pro.

At ActivOT, we have regular planning sessions so that the whole team is focussed and our vision and direction is clear.

Help others succeed

I’m not afraid to say I intend to run the best occupational therapy business in Australia.

The way to do that is to engage the best occupational therapists in Australia and to help them succeed. Whether it’s our clients or the occupational therapists that are part of our team, success is all about helping other people.

Many occupational therapists struggle with the business side of their practice. ActivOT gives them the tools and structure to grow their business so they can focus on caring for their clients. Just like it should be.

Boundaries matter

While many believe that boundaries are limiting, I believe that boundaries in life and in business give you more freedom—not less—and that clear values-based boundaries can enhance the quality of your life and business.

In 2015, I had a near-death health scare. It reinforced to me, more than ever, that many of our daily stressors and struggles stem from a lack of clear boundaries.

Decide what your boundaries are and stick to them.

At ActivOT, we consider boundaries to be essential self-care and therefore a fundamental part of practicing occupational therapy. Supporting others requires a 100% commitment to self-care!

That’s it from me. What’s your number one career lesson so far? I’d love to hear from you.

Ps. If you’re an occupational therapist and you’re interested in learning more about what we do, you can get in touch with me via

Helen Whait is an award-winning innovator in occupational therapy service provision. She’s a franchisor, occupational therapist and mentor.

Why is ActivOT a franchise business?

ActivOT is Australia’s first and currently only occupational therapy (OT) franchise business. While franchising is relatively common in the business world it is definitely not something that you’ll see often in the healthcare arena. So why is ActivOT a franchise business?

We know that franchising has certain connotations, so this article aims to clear up why our franchise model helps our occupational therapists to become private practitioners and supports them to provide great care for our clients.

How ActivOT became a franchise

ActivOT’s founder, Helen Whait, had been a sole practitioner for nearly a decade when it became apparent, in 2011, that many occupational therapists held both a strong desire for working independently and a need to belong to a community of like-minded and supportive practitioners.

Occupational therapy is a profession which is client-focused and hands-on, so it’s essential to the wellbeing of therapists – and their ability to serve their clients well – to stay balanced, healthy and supported in their work.

Solo practitioners find it difficult to take the kind of work breaks that are necessary to their sustained wellbeing. Professional support is often limited as industry peers (who consider themselves competitors) do not readily share knowledge or experience. Access to information technology and marketing is expensive and time-consuming.

Employing relief staff is challenging. Keeping staff engaged and committed to a client base while ensuring they meet billable hours targets requires significant time and energy. The added load of overhead costs involved in employing staff can be overwhelming.

Still, in spite of these challenges, many occupational therapists want to move away from traditional employment to become private practitioners.

The experience of ActivOT team members has shown that employment often comes at the cost of their values as therapists.

Their other reasons for wanting to become private practitioners are:

  • the need for better work-life balance
  • a desire to do more diverse and satisfying work
  • a long-held desire to own an OT practice but no opportunity or confidence to start one
  • a great desire to experience the satisfaction of complete control over their career
  • the need for flexibility in their work lives in order to achieve both personal and professional goals
  • frustration with bureaucratic constraints applied in workplaces that limit their OT practice and hence achieving the best possible client outcomes.

In order to find a business model that would help OTs to become private practitioners while also offering genuine support and flexibility, Helen Whait explored a number of options. In the end, even though there were obstacles to overcome, Helen was sure that a franchise model would fit the brief.

The ActivOT franchise model was formalised in 2012 and by the end of the year there were three ActivOT franchises.

The business has continued to grow and flourish. As at July 2020 there are twenty-five thriving ActivOT practices in South Australia, Queensland and Melbourne, with two more in the process of signing.

ActivOT’s culture of support is what sets it apart

The ActivOT model enables all of its franchisees to enjoy the best of both worlds. They are private practice owners with truly flexible working conditions combined with a supportive team environment to ensure they succeed.

ActivOT operates as a “co-operative” of therapists who pool resources so that everyone involved benefits. Each therapist is invested, financially and emotionally, in the business in order to uphold the high standards of practice and the strong professional reputation of the ActivOT brand.

With the introduction of the franchise model, more clients are serviced with excellent levels of care, skill and professionalism. ActivOT practitioners also experience the freedom of core practice without unnecessary bureaucracy in a truly flexible working arrangement.

Extreme care has been taken to only “on-board” like minded therapists. Those who are client focused; who aspire to best practice; who are willing to contribute to the group for the benefit of all involved.

The ActivOT franchise is a values-based proposition. Our culture is what makes the franchise model work. Integrity, honesty and sincerity are at the core of all we do. ActivOT practitioners genuinely care for others whether it be a client or a fellow therapist.

ActivOT is about inclusion, acceptance, assistance, understanding, compassion, helping, guiding, valuing. It is about helping all whom we come into contact with to become the best version of themselves they can be. It is about building people up, giving them self-belief and promoting their confidence. Whether it be a client, franchisee, friends, colleagues or family the underpinning values are the same.

We’re a family. If one of our therapists falls down, we are all there to pick them up.

ActivOT’s success highlights

  • Since 2012, 25 occupational therapy professionals transitioned from employees to private practitioners, with more in the process of signing.
  • Clients in three states, including regional and remote areas, now receive life-changing occupational therapy services with the expansion of the business from South Australia into Queensland and Victoria.
  • In the 2019-20 financial year, the team welcomed three therapy assistants who now carry out occupational therapy programs in metropolitan Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills and other regions via telehealth.
  • Two early on-boarders with ActivOT have signed franchise agreements for another five-year term.
  • In 2020, our digital presence was expanded to include an online referral form and our new website – to improve accessibility and ease of use for our clients. We also have a growing following on our social media accounts.
  • Leadership coaching has been undertaken as part of our ongoing commitment to professional development and improvement.
  • All ActivOT franchises have maintained their practices throughout the pandemic with the introduction of protective Covid-19 measures, including telehealth, PPE and risk assessment procedures.
  • We now participate in shaping of the future of occupational therapy via active roles in national reference groups that aim to affect changes in government policy. We’re also actively involved with our local universities in both an advisory capacity in relation to new courses and with research programs.
  • We provide consultancy services to Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) to assist long term hospital patients to leave hospital.

ActivOT’s overall performance success stems from recognising the skills, experience and expertise of each individual franchisee and from facilitating their input into the business as whole as well as their own franchises.

ActivOT practitioners succeed through their strong focus on best practice. Ongoing learning and professional development is paramount to the success of each ActivOT practice. Collectively, we stay abreast of system and funding/policy changes as well as changes in occupational therapy practice and the latest options available in assistive technology. By sharing our knowledge, expertise and resources, time and costs are reduced for each individual therapist within the group. There is currently well over a hundred years of clinical experience shared within the ActivOT group.

The ActivOT business model works for therapists in regional or remote areas. We serve our regional communities, with choice in occupational therapy services, with practitioners on the Eyre Peninsula and the Yorke Peninsula. We’ve also made therapy services available in other regions via telehealth.

Learn more about franchise opportunities

More information about franchise opportunities is available on our franchise page.

Alternatively, you are welcome to contact Helen Whait directly on 0404 497 965 or for a confidential discussion.

DVA pays allied health workers less than NDIS professionals

We’ve posted about some issues currently under review with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on our social media in the past few months, including an article by the ABC about pay inequities for allied health workers caring for veterans. The article explains how workers are facing a choice between higher pay and caring for patients who’ve served Australia:

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs pays allied health workers, like occupational therapists and physiotherapists, only when they meet clients face-to-face.

But the National Disability Insurance Scheme pays the same professionals for everything they do, like paperwork, travel, research and anything directly connected with their clients’ care.

That’s forcing many into a heartbreaking choice between caring for clients who’ve served their country or taking higher pay to care for other needy Australians.

Occupational therapist, Donna Griffin, based in Gympie (Queensland), is working with Federal MP Llew O’Brien to campaign for fairer payment arrangements. The Veterans Affairs Minister has been reported as working on a budget proposal to deal with the issue but that this was shelved when the federal budget was postponed due to the corona virus outbreak.

ActivOT practitioners are dedicated to caring for our veteran clients and will continue to do so, regardless of the outcome of this campaign.

You can read the full article on the ABC News website or listen to the radio broadcast here.

Important update for Covid-19

In March 2020, the Australian Minister for Health confirmed that all allied health businesses can continue working and are encouraged to do so.

ActivOT practitioners in all states offer in home services where it is safe to do so after carrying out risk assessments. We’re also offering telehealth services where appropriate in order to reduce risk for everyone concerned.

Throughout 2021, ActivOT occupational therapists are continuing to practice covid-safe as per current guidelines.

To download and view our Covid-19 Risk Assessment tool please click the button below.

Changes to allied health referral arrangement for DVA clients

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has introduced changes to referral arrangements for treatment cycles which aim to improve quality of care for veterans.

These changes came into effect on the 1st October 2019.

How the new referral arrangements work

Put simply:

  • Your GP identifies that you have a clinical need for Allied Health services and completes a referral.
  • Separate referrals are given for each identified area of need such as Psychology, Podiatry, or Occupational Therapy (OT).
  • Referrals are valid for up to 12 sessions or 12 months whichever comes first.
  • Your GP then reviews the progress of the treatment and can provide a new referral if required.

New referral arrangements for occupational therapy services

For OT services the changes will not have a large impact on what we do. Occasionally we may need to ask for a second treatment cycle, but for most 12 sessions a year will be sufficient.

New referral arrangements for other allied health services

The new referral arrangements will have a big impact on physiotherapy and exercise physiology services.

For example, if you are having physio twice a week, you will need a new referral every six weeks.

Veterans with TPI Gold Card do not use the treatment cycle for physiotherapy and exercise physiology but will need a new referral for occupational therapy and other allied health services after 12 sessions or 12 months.

How do I access occupational therapy services?

  • First obtain a D904 referral to treat a condition(s) from your GP
  • Give your ActivOT OT a call, we can usually see you within a week
  • We will ask you about your health goals and help you to achieve them
  • We will conduct a very thorough look at safety in and around your home.

We can assist you to access any eligible products and services you are entitled to through the DVA RAP program to keep you living safely and independently in your home for as long as possible.

For more information about the Department of Veteran’s Affairs changes to allied health service referrals, visit their website.

To find out more about occupational therapy services for veterans, contact us.