What is Occupational Therapy?

Posted on October 6, 2017 by kerri
When I started university, my goal was to become an occupational therapist—significant difficulty in anatomy changed those plans for me. Recently, though, a new friend who is an OT encouraged me to look into an occupational therapy assistant program—something I had looked at before and then was either dissuaded from or dissuaded myself from! October is Occupational Therapy Month, and we’re going to recognize all the awesome Occupational Therapists [OTs] out there with an attempt at rounding-up all the amazing things that Occupational Therapists help people with!
OT occupational therapy - O is made from a heart
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapists help people develop the skills necessary for activities of daily living, as is appropriate to that person. OTs customize their approach to each client or patient, their required or desired activities, and their disability, illness, or circumstance. Some tasks that OTs may work on with individuals include eating, bathing, dressing, using the bathroom independently, stroke recovery, vision loss, movement (walking, crawling, falls prevention), functional skills, using adaptive devices (pencil grips, weighted cutlery/plates, etc.) and mobility devices (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) [1]. Occupational therapists work with a person’s current skill and ability level to customize a therapy program to improve those skills and acquire new ones.
What types of occupational therapy exist?
In the United States, the most common types of occupational therapy specializations are [2]:
  • Pediatrics (children)
  • Geriatrics (older adults)
  • Mental health
  • Physical rehabilitation
Occupational therapists may practice within the community, hospitals or rehabilitation centres, personal care or nursing homes and in schools. As the name might imply, occupational therapists don’t just work with people at their place of work, although, this may be a function of some OTs, specifically those in physical rehabilitation, environment adaptation, or mental health, as they assist a person to return to work after illness or injury, assess the work environment, and recommend accommodations for the employee to return to work successfully with a new disability or illness, such as an adapted workspace, modified job duties, or a modified work schedule.
What is the purpose of Occupational Therapy?
Much of occupational therapy focuses on navigating the environment a person is in—installing supports such as grab bars in the bathroom, or transferring in/out of a wheelchair or vehicle may be taught to a person with a physical disability, such as paraplegia, while a child with autism and their family may work with an OT for assistance managing sensory overload and meltdowns, teaching independent living skills such as dressing, eating (and later cooking), and respecting boundaries.
Many skills taught by OTs overlap with those of other professionals. Cooking skills and recreation management are areas that may overlap with a recreation therapist; walking or transferring may overlap with a physical therapist. Any skills a person requires to live a fulfilling life may be addressed by an occupational therapist—their jobs are incredibly diverse, and I can’t even begin to scratch the surface in a blog post!
People with chronic illness or disability may adapt to changes in their lifestyle, energy levels, and abilities—especially if those fluctuate on a day-to-day basis, with the help of an occupational therapist. If you’ve ever wondered about occupational therapy, find an OT in your community to chat with—I’m sure they would love to tell you about what they do!

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