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 do 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’ve been injured, manage a chronic illness, or experience barriers in your life, consider connecting with a Lifemark occupational therapist in your area to see what these unsung heroes of healthcare can offer.