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 helps 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
  • perform their job duties

These professionals may work in a number of settings including:

  • nursing homes
  • hospitals
  • patients’ private residences

Patients benefit from occupational therapy (OT) due to developmental disorders such as:

  • autism
  • stroke
  • surgical recovery
  • mental health issues like depression

Professionals also work with 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 OT field 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 assists a patient recovering from surgery to facilitate healing and build strength through exercises and other therapies. An occupational therapist works 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.

An occupational therapist helps patients compensate for limitations by using adaptive technologies. These include  tools that can be used to assist completing various actions. For example, a patient who is unable to bend at the waist may be taught to use 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
  • nursing homes

They may work to enhance daily living skills like personal hygiene and dressing to prepare patients to return home from a hospital stay. Therapists can also assist 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. To improve a patient’s overall life satisfaction, they combine the realms of:

  • cognitive abilities
  • physical skills
  • emotional functioning

Some therapists specialize in working with children. These pediatric occupational therapists may conduct activities with autistic kids to help them 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
  • playing sports

Another area of specialization for these professionals is helping the elderly. Occupational therapists can help older adults 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. This helps them 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.