What exactly is occupational therapy?

pt HealthOccupational Therapy, Uncategorized

Throughout my career as a physiotherapist, a question that countless patients have asked me (and a question I was asking too) is “what is occupational therapy?”

As my understanding of occupational therapists (OTs) grew, I came to appreciate the vast skill set these healthcare professionals possess, and the exceptional and innovative ways they guide and support their clients.

Occupational therapists help their clients enjoy a meaningful life. This is how they do it.

Occupational therapy helps people to the things that are important to them

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists defines occupational therapy as a type of health care that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do things that are important to them. This includes everyday things like:

  • Self-care – getting dressed, eating, moving around the house
  • Being productive – going to work or school, participating in the community
  • Leisure activities – sports, gardening, social activities.

This definition is pretty concise, but a little vague. Let’s expand:

  • OTs are regulated health professionals – Similar to physicians and physiotherapists, they’re university-educated (bachelor’s & master’s degrees are required), and are governed by a regulatory college
  • OTs work in many different settings – You can find OTs in hospitals, rehab facilities, care homes, schools, offices, insurance companies, and government
  • OTs bring a unique perspective to the care of their patients – OTs are trained to support the person as a whole, with an understanding of the physical, cognitive, and emotional limitations of injury, illness, or disability

Occupational therapy is driven by careful assessment and individualized solutions

With their whole-person approach, OTs work to figure out why their clients cannot do something they need/want to do, and propose a plan to guide achievement of their goals. OTs can assess things such as:

  • Physical functioning – range of motion, strength, and balance
  • Cognitive functioning – coping strategies, organizational skills, memory, and problem solving
  • Emotional and social functioning and supports
  • Physical environments of home, work, school, etc
  • Devices or options available to facilitate goal achievement (ie. splints, tools, home adaptations)

Occupational therapy treatment is founded in three key approaches:

  • Adaptation – modifying the setting or demands of a task to facilitate performance
  • Compensation – finding strategies or techniques that work around limitations
  • Remediation – restoring a skill or ability that is impaired

Treatment techniques often applied by occupational therapists include:

  • Education on topics to improve understanding of abilities, how to work within/enhance them
  • Activation or training tasks to enhance physical, cognitive, and mental performance
  • Coaching, goal setting and much more

Occupational therapy covers a wide range of treatments for a variety of impairments. Whether you have been injured, manage a chronic illness, or experience barriers in your life, consider connecting with an occupational therapist near you, to see what these heroes of healthcare can offer.

This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Krista McIntyre, National Director of Program, Specialty Services.



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