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What exactly is occupational therapy?

Author Details

Krista McIntyre blog author

Krista McIntyre

Reg. PT., M.Sc.PT., H.B.K. | National Director of Program Development, Specialty Services

Monday, Oct. 3, 2022

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.

Author Details

Krista McIntyre blog author

Krista McIntyre

Reg. PT., M.Sc.PT., H.B.K. | National Director of Program Development, Specialty Services

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