What Is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

what is occupational therapy

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Let’s face it — we live in a world where hard things happen. It is rare to go through life without be affected by some form of disability, illness, or injury. Sometimes when we face issues like these, we begin to lose a bit of our control, whether that mean we lose the ability to cook for ourselves due to an arm injury, or we lose coordination of the entire left side of our body following a stroke, or maybe we need help rebuilding core strength to get up and be active after lying in a hospital bed recovering from a major surgery.

In each of these scenarios, you may receive services from an occupational therapist to help you get back to living your life the way you want to.

Defining OT

Occupational therapy is defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as, “the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities, or occupations.”

Although this is sort of a mouthful, the gist of this incredible profession is that OTs enable people to live life to the fullest by helping them engage in meaningful activities, or occupations. It is our ultimate goal to support people to live as independently as possible, doing the things that they want and need to do.

What Are Occupations?

When we say “occupations”, we are referring to any activities of daily living that make life what it is including eating, dressing, bathing, playing games with friends, grocery shopping, handwriting, dancing, and the list goes on and on. Ultimately, occupational therapists focus on the activities that are most meaningful to their patients and provide activities, resources, and supports so that their patients are able to engage in those activities on their own.

Occupational therapists can provide support for the following activities:

  • Bathing/Showering
  • Dressing
  • Toileting
  • Eating
  • Child Care
  • Pet Care
  • Communication
  • Driving and Mobility
  • Financial Management
  • Shopping
  • Religious Activities
  • Home Maintenance
  • Leisure/Play
  • Social Participation
  • And the list goes on and on….

It can be difficult to define occupational therapy because it is such a broad field that really changes depending on the population you are working with. Though occupational therapy is often utilized in hospitals following injury as well as in nursing homes to serve older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes, OT is also utilized to help children with disabilities to participate in meaningful activities such as playing, engaging in activities with family, and all activities associated with school and extracurriculars.

For this reason, many children with disabilities such as autism and ADHD, those born prematurely, and even many foster and adoptive children from abusive backgrounds receive occupational therapy services. They may even help young children reach important developmental milestones in order to ensure proper growth and development.

Where Do OTs Work?

Occupational therapists do a variety of different therapeutic activities across a variety of different work environments. You may see an OT working in a school helping children with handwriting skills, or in a hospital helping a stroke victim learn to dress themselves after losing coordination of the left side of their body, or in individuals’ homes providing tools and resources to assist in cooking and gardening.

Overall, occupational therapists provide tools and supports to help patients achieve their independent living goals, so that everyone is able to live life to the fullest!

Not sure if a career in occupational therapy is right for you? Check out this post to learn more about what the field of occupational therapy is all about.

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