What is Occupational Therapy?

August 21, 2023

Occupational therapy

Have you heard of occupational therapy (OT)? If the answer is no, you are not alone. Many people may not know or have even heard of OT unless they or their loved ones have gone through it. Let’s dive a little deeper into the world of OT and get a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of an occupational therapist as well as misconceptions around OT.

Occupational therapists don’t help people find jobs

In occupational therapy, the term “occupations” refer to meaningful activities that characterize your daily routines, relationships and life roles — not jobs. Occupations include:

  • Work
  • Play
  • Education
  • Social participation
  • Activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing, grooming and feeding
  • Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as grocery shopping, financial and home management and cooking

Occupational therapists (OTs) work to promote and increase a patient’s participation, safety and independence with these daily roles and routines.

Occupational therapy is not the same as physical therapy (PT)

Physical therapists (PTs) focus more on overall mobility. OTs focus on things you want and need to do in your daily life to promote health and well-being; this can include working on range of motion, strength or fine motor coordination so that you can brush your teeth or cook a meal. It can also include working on visual, cognitive or social skills so you can visually scan for clothing articles, sequence the steps needed for dressing and understand the appropriateness of the attire depending on the social or community event.

Occupational therapists do not only work on hands or upper extremities

Occupational therapists work within their scope of practice, which can encompass various body parts. They may work on your standing balance while also working on reaching into your kitchen cabinets. They could be working on your core and seated balance so that you can safely transfer between surfaces. They could be working on your visual and cognitive skills by having you search for grocery items and determine costs and payments of those items.

Roles and responsibilities of occupational therapists

Occupational therapists help patients of all ages develop, regain and maintain functional physical, social and emotional skills to improve performance in everyday activities. They do this by:

  • Testing and evaluating each patient’s mental, emotional and physical abilities
  • Creating realistic, patient-centered rehabilitation goals
  • Facilitating lifestyle changes or recommending compensatory strategies (adaptive technology, durable medical equipment, environmental modifications, etc.)  to ensure safety and greater independence
  • Collaborating with the rehabilitation team to improve patient wellness and manage chronic conditions

Occupational therapists are trained and board certified in a wide variety of specialties, including:

  • Aging in place
  • Gerontology
  • Hand therapy
  • Low vision       
  • Mental health                                                           
  • Neuro-developmental treatment
  • Brain injury                             
  • Driving and community mobility
  • Environmental modification
  • Feeding, eating and swallowing
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Seating and mobility
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Assistive technology
  • Diabetes education
  • Ergonomics

Occupational therapy is holistic

An occupational therapist helps you regain your sense of independence in the activities you enjoy doing the most. To do this, an OT considers how they can support and improve your emotional, mental, physical, environmental and social needs. They also work with your family and caregivers to understand your needs and how they can best help you when you return home.

Working in conjunction with your doctor, your occupational therapist will help you regain skills so that you can return home, be as independent as possible and live a quality life.

To request an appointment with an occupational therapist, call 1.888.44.REHAB or visit our occupational therapy page.