What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

what-does-an-occupational-therapist-doAn occupational therapist works with patients to help them restore lost skills or to develop new ones related to performing the tasks of everyday living.

The name can be deceiving, as it often leads people to believe that this type of professional assists clients with matters involving occupation or career. In actuality, they help people gain the physical and mental skills necessary to dress themselves independently, meet their own care needs, enjoy leisure activities, as well as perform their job duties. These professionals may work in a number of settings including nursing homes, hospitals and patients’ private residences. Patients benefit from occupational therapy (OT) due to developmental disorders such as autism, stroke, surgical recovery, mental health issues like depression and populations with special concerns such as the elderly.

Goals of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy differs from physical therapy in that it focuses on the enhancement of both physical and mental abilities. The field of OT is concerned with improving people’s overall functioning in daily life.

It’s not unusual for a physical therapist and occupational therapist to work together. A physical therapist would work to assist a patient recovering from surgery to facilitate healing and build strength through exercises and other therapies, while an occupational therapist would work with the patient to teach and facilitate new ways of approaching life tasks such as getting in and out of bed or navigating the home safely.

Another mission of occupational therapy is to help patients to compensate for limitations through the utilization of adaptive technologies, which are tools that can be used to assist in the completion of various actions. For example, a patient who is unable to bend at the waist may be taught to utilize some sort of long handled device to retrieve items from the floor.

Duties of Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists primarily work for hospitals, home health agencies, schools or nursing homes. They may work to enhance daily living skills like personal hygiene and dressing in order to prepare patients for returning home from a hospital stay. Therapists can also assist patients such as nursing home residents or physically disabled patients with exercises or tasks to improve balance and gain mobility. Occupational therapists also help people to regain skills they have lost due to stroke or other traumatic brain injury. They combine the realms of cognitive abilities, physical skills and emotional functioning to improve a patient’s overall life satisfaction.

Some therapists specialize in working with children. These pediatric occupational therapists may conduct activities with autistic kids in order to help them to process overwhelming sensory stimuli. This is known as sensory integration therapy. Children who lack fine-motor skills or have other physical limitations can be assisted in activities like handwriting, using scissors and playing sports. Another area of specialization for these professionals is helping the elderly. Not only can occupational therapists help older adults to compensate for loss of physical and mental function, they can also help those reaching the end of life to continue participating in as much of their regular lives as possible in order to maintain a feeling of involvement and normalcy.

No matter where they work or the population they serve, these professionals are dedicated to enhancing the daily lives of their patients. An occupational therapist serves an important role in the healthcare field.