What is Occupational Therapy?

Chances are you may have never heard of occupational therapy.  Unless you have gone through rehabilitation after an injury or illness or know someone with different abilities who went through therapy growing up, occupational therapy is one of those specialized healthcare professions that is still gaining momentum in the mainstream conversation of society.

Nevertheless, ask an occupational therapy practitioner or student (or a consumer who has had experience with occupational therapy) and you are sure to hear about all of the wonderful roles that OT plays in healthcare and in society.  Many of these definitions are based on the personal and professional experiences of these advocates.

Occupational therapy is a vital healthcare profession because occupational therapy practitioners understand that learning what motivates people helps us understand how to help people live the most fulfilling version of their lives. 

Occupational therapy practitioners understand that participating in meaning activities and occupations is at the core of the human experience.  That is why therapeutic engagement in occupations is at the core of occupational therapy practice and is the distinct value of occupational therapy.  Occupational therapy is informed by occupational science, anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, anthropology, sociology, and more.

Occupational therapy practitioners understand that human beings are “doers” and that the meaning and purpose of life can often times be found in what people do; therefore, when people experience an accident/illness/injury that prevents “doing” the effects can be devastating.  Occupational therapy practitioners are trained to work with individuals to restore function and teach compensatory techniques to facilitate a person’s return to the highest level of independence to “do” for themselves once again in the person’s “new normal”.  In the case of children who are born with a disability, occupational therapy practitioners work with the child and family from the child’s birth to support the best quality of life, development, and functional abilities.

One of my favorite quotes to sum up occupational therapy came from Ginny Stoffel when she stated:

“Occupational therapy practitioners ask, “what matters to you” not, “what’s the matter with you?”” ~ Ginny Stoffel, AOTA Past President

The following definition is from the World Federation of Occupational Therapy:

Occupational therapy is a client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement. (WFOT, 2012)

For more information, visit: the World Federation of Occupational Therapy website

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