What is Occupational Therapy?

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What exactly is occupational therapy, aka OT?

Is it like physical therapy? Is it helping people find jobs?

Well, it could be. But it's way more than that.  I think a better question would be “what isn’t OT?”

The term occupation refers to any meaningful activity that occupies your time. Literally. Anything. Not just your job. Is brushing your teeth meaningful for you? You might not think so... Until you are no longer able to do it, and then all of a sudden brushing your teeth becomes the most important thing in the world to you.

So although an occupation can certainly be your career, we as humans have a lot more going on that just our job! We are complex, multi-factored, and emotional beings with unique roles, habits, routines, values, interests, desires, beliefs, traditions, spiritualities, and cultures. We also have different bodily factors, including the muscular system, the nervous system, and the skeletal system, to name a few. Not to mention the environment. This could involve our physical environment, our social environment, or our virtual environment. And lastly, we all have different occupations! A stay at home mom of toddlers will most likely have very different duties than a traveling business man. Someone who enjoys reading as their main hobby may have different goals than someone who enjoys snowboarding as their main hobby. Like I said, we are complex beings.

Occupational therapists learn the ins and outs of people. People are our specialty.

And if one of the factors mentioned above (plus many more) is inhibiting or limiting a person from performing a meaningful occupation, it is our job to step in. And then we consider all the other factors and tailer treatment accordingly to make it individualized and meaningful. But basically, we provide therapeutic interventions to help people across the lifespan physically, emotionally, and mentally to achieve their highest quality of life.  

How cool is that?

You'll find occupational therapists in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, acute care, schools, skilled nursing facilities, pediatric clinics, day cares, community settings, in people's homes, food banks, health fairs, and many more. 

Occupational therapists commonly treat, but are not limited to, individuals diagnosed with a cerebrovascular accident (stroke), autism spectrum disorder, amputation, spinal cord injury, depression, traumatic brain injuries, eating disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, Parkinson's, ADHD, and just about any other diagnosis, disability, disorder, syndrome, or injury you can think of.  

BUT you do not have to have a diagnosis, disability, disorder, syndrome, or injury to reap the benefits an occupational therapist has to offer. Like mentioned before, OTs' specialty is people. In my opinion, we are the ultimate life coach. We have the skills and knowledge, backed up by evidence and research, to help just about everyone perform any and all meaningful occupations to achieve the highest quality of life!

The best part about occupational therapy is it has a holistic approach. This means we look at each person as a whole, not just the diagnosis or “problem” as something that we treat separately. We take into consideration all that makes up who that person is: their habits and routines, the social support they may have, the resources they may not have, their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and most importantly, what’s most important to them. To really hit home with this concept, in OT school, we were taught to address the people we work with as clients, rather than patients.

Something else that makes occupational therapy unique is the way we provide therapy. We are “client-centered,” meaning we aim to make therapy meaningful and individualized for each client. If a client loves to garden, then we may use gardening as an intervention. If a client is a child, then we use various forms of play to reach the goals. And if a client has never done laundry in his or her life, then we won’t make them do that.

So even though when most people think occupation, they think career, occupational therapy is much more than that. An occupational therapist will help you to perform meaningful occupations, no matter who or where you are, in a way that is fulfilling for you. Bottom line, occupational therapists help others live life to the fullest. And how can it get any better than that?

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