What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?
Occupational therapy is 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 (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.
Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include:
- an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
- customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
- an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.
Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science.
Occupational therapy (OT) is therefore a branch of health care that helps people of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. OT can help them regain independence in all areas of their lives.
Occupational therapists help with barriers that affect a person’s emotional, social, and physical needs. To do this, they use everyday activities, exercises, and other therapies.
OT helps kids play, improves their school performance, and aids their daily activities. It also boosts their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. With OT, kids can:
- Develop fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting or computer skills.
- Improve eye–hand coordination so they can play and do needed school skills such as bat a ball and copy from a blackboard.
- Master basic life skills such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and self-feeding.
- Learn positive behaviors and social skills by practicing how they manage frustration and anger.
- Get special equipment to help build their independence. These include wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids.
Who Might Need Occupational Therapy?
OT can help kids, teens, adults and the elderly who have:
- birth injuries or birth defects
- sensory processing disorders
- traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord
- learning disabilities or problems
- autism and asperger syndrome
- down syndrome
- juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- mental health or behavioral problems
- broken bones or other orthopedic injuries
- developmental delays
- post-surgical conditions
- spina bifida
- traumatic amputations
- severe hand injuries
- dementia and alzheimer’s disease
- multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic neurological illnesses
How Do Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Differ?
Physical therapy and occupational therapy both help improve kids’ quality of life, but there are differences. Physical therapy (PT) helps with:
- joint range of motion
- gross motor skills (large-muscle movements made with the arms, legs, feet, or entire body)
Occupational therapy helps with:
- fine motor skills (small-muscle movements made with the hands, fingers, and toes, such as grasping)
- visual-perceptual skills
- cognitive (thinking) skills
- sensory-processing problems
Who Does Occupational Therapy?
The two professional levels of occupational therapy practice are:
- Occupational therapist (OT): An OT has a 3 or 4-year bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy or in a related field (such as biology, psychology, or health science) and ideally a master’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy program.
- Occupational therapist assistant (OTA): An OTA has an associate’s degree from an accredited OTA program. They can carry out treatment plans developed by an OT but can’t do patient evaluations.
OTs and OTAs must do supervised fieldwork programs and pass a national certification exam. A license to practice is mandatory in most countries and states, as are continuing education classes.
Where Do OTs Work?
Occupational therapists work in many different settings, including hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, private practices. and children’s clinics.