Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that helps individuals meet specific goals for improving function in a wide range of areas from socializing to work to recreational activities or self-care in the home. Many different types of patients work with occupational therapists: disabled children and adults, children on the autism spectrum, people recovering from injuries, elderly patients trying to maintain independence, and more.

Professionals in this field are highly educated and have had specific training in occupational therapy and helping patients improve functioning, quality of life, and independence. They work in all types of medical and care settings and may even work in the home. Occupational therapists can provide a number of benefits, but it is important to choose a professional that offers the best quality care.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of health care and rehabilitative therapy that focuses on helping patients live more independently. The goals of this kind of therapy also include helping patients have lives that are more productive and satisfying and to improve overall quality of life. This is done by focusing on improving the ability of individuals to perform specific tasks, to engage in self-care, to work, or to engage in social and recreational activities.

The occupations of occupational therapy are various areas of life in which function and independence can be improved: work, play, self-care, leisure, and other activities important to each individual patient. People who can benefit from occupational therapy may have developmental, physical, emotional, or social issues that prevent full functioning or independence. While physical therapy is focused on physical functioning and mobility, occupational therapy helps patients meet very specific goals of helping them do the things they think are most important.

Who Are Occupational Therapists?

Occupational therapists are educated and trained health care professionals. They have earned at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy, but some also have doctoral or specialty degrees. These are also professionals that must be licensed through the state in which they practice. They have passed a certification exam through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy to become registered and licensed. Some therapists have received additional training to specialize in areas like pediatric therapy or mental health.

Services Offered by Occupational Therapists

These professionals offer a range of services depending on each patient’s individual needs and goals, but they all begin with an evaluation. This important first step allows the therapist to determine what the patient’s needs are. Occupational therapists generally provide services that help patients recover, develop, or improve skills and function in various areas of life. Some examples of what an occupational therapist does for patients include:

  • Evaluate, observe, and listen to patients and their families.
  • Review the medical and therapy history of the patient.
  • Develop goals for the patient, including input on what is most important for each individual.
  • Create a treatment plan that addresses the goals.
  • Guide the patient through exercises and practice during sessions to help work toward goals.
  • Evaluate the home or workplace of the patient to help make changes that will improve function.
  • Educate families and others close to the patient about what assistance they can provide at home and in other settings outside the therapy session.
  • Help patients learn to use adaptive and assistive equipment.
  • Assess a patient’s progress periodically and make changes as needed.
  • Consult with other health professionals to help better treat patients.

Who Needs Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is goal-oriented and helps patients to be able to do specific tasks with minimal or no assistance. Patients who can benefit from this kind of therapy include patients of any age with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, or emotional, behavioral, or mental health issues that limit their ability to function at home, at school, at work, with self-care, and with specific activities.

Other patients that can benefit from occupational therapy include people recovering from illnesses and injuries, patients recovering from a stroke or heart attack, elderly patients with degenerative brain diseases or other limitations, and anyone who needs help learning how to function better in their daily lives.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy

The benefits of occupational therapy are potentially numerous because they depend on the particular goals of each individual patient. In general, though, the benefits of this kind of therapy are improved functioning, improved or maintained independence, and better quality of life. These benefits are achieved by helping patients meet their specific goals, like being able to use the bathroom without assistance or being able to work in spite of memory problems. Other examples of benefits patients can get from occupational therapy include:

  • Preventing falls in elderly patients.
  • Recovering function after an injury or illness.
  • Improving cognitive function in patients with dementia.
  • Improving social and school function in children with behavioral conditions.
  • Increasing independence for adults with developmental disabilities.
  • Making modifications to the home or office to help improve function and independence, as well as safety.
  • Providing caregivers with better tools to help those in their care.

Where Occupational Therapy is Offered

Occupational therapists offer their services in a wide range of settings. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical centers, and doctor’s offices. They may also work in rehabilitation centers and private practice offices. They also work in community settings, like schools, prisons, community work skills programs, and community centers and clinics. Occupational therapists often work in multi-disciplinary teams with other health professionals including physicians and nurses, physical therapists, social workers, psychologists, and others.

Occupational therapy is an important part of health care and one that is growing. Demand for quality professionals in occupational therapy is on the rise as more people realize the benefits they can get from working towards improving function and skills. If you are looking for a good occupational therapist, be sure to check on licensing, training, certifications, and references. If you have a loved one getting care with a therapist, be present at sessions so you can assure that the therapist is providing quality and consistent care. With the right therapist, patients can see important improvements in function and quality of life.