Definition and Overview

Occupational therapy is a specific kind of therapy used to help people live independently despite their existing health conditions. It is used as a part of treatment programs for people who have an illness, inborn developmental delay, psychological problem, or long-term injury. Occupational therapy, which involves applying individualized treatment program that is unique for each case, aims to help patients satisfying lives and ensure that they obtain a positive outlook, as well as a sense of purpose.

Occupational therapists work with patients of all ages, from children to the elderly. Among children patients, additional attention is given to developing concentration skills and social skills.

The objectives of Occupational therapy

There are many sides to occupational therapy, since it is meant to help a patient with the overall management of his condition within the context of regular, daily life. Thus, a person undergoing this form of treatment will receive assistance and training in:

  • Personal care – Patients of occupational therapy will be trained in caring for themselves in spite of their condition. Some examples of personal care activities include eating and bathing.

  • Home skills – To achieve a normal life as much as possible, patients are also trained in performing the usual activities around the house, such as housekeeping, cooking, and gardening.

  • Personal management – To help patients have a productive life, occupational therapy also teaches them how to keep a schedule just like any individual.

  • Mobility – If the patient plans on driving or using other means of transportation, this treatment program will teach them to do so safely. Occupational therapists are also responsible for developing the skills that they will need for driving, such as judgment skills, decision-making skills, and thinking.

  • Physical exercise – As part of the treatment program, exercise also takes up a huge chunk of occupational therapy. Patients who are suffering from chronic health problems or are recovering from injuries need to keep themselves active. They will be trained in maintaining joint movement, strength, flexibility, and good posture, while conserving their energy and protecting themselves.

  • Use of assistive devices – If a patient needs to wear assistive devices such as splints, braces, wheelchairs, computer-aided equipment, and the like, as part of their treatment, occupational therapists are also responsible for training them to use and get used to such. Occupational therapists also seek alternatives to the usual things that people use to make daily activities easier and more manageable for their patients; some examples include electric toothbrushes, electric can openers, special keyboards, and so on. Thanks to the advents of technology, devices that use voice control are now also used to assist patients who are suffering from movement problems.

  • Physical safety – It is also the job of the occupational therapist to ensure the physical safety of his patient in his normal environment. This may include even simple safety measures such as putting non-slip mats in the shower, grab rails in the stairway, and raised toilets in the bathroom.

  • Workplace rehabilitation – This refers to the aspect of occupational therapy focused on helping patients return to work or find work that is appropriate for them based on their existing condition. This can either be a paid job or a different preoccupation, such as volunteering or becoming a full-time parent. The job of the occupational therapist is to suggest possible careers, assess the workplace for safety, assess the patient's roles and responsibilities, assess all work activities and the patient's ability to perform them, provide additional training if needed, and guiding employers and co-workers into understanding the patient's condition.

  • Guidance for relatives and caregivers – It is also the occupational therapist's job to teach and guide family members and caregivers on how to take care and provide assistance to the patient if needed.

This is not an all-inclusive list; an occupational therapist can review any activity that is challenging for his patient to perform, and try to look for ways to enable his patient to perform such activity, either in the conventional way or by devising a different manner of completion. Therapists usually break down a single activity into many different small movements, and help the patient practice those movements individually until he can complete the activity as a whole.

While providing care, assistance, and training, therapists also need to consider the costs of therapy to make it manageable for patients. Aside from providing therapy, occupational therapists are also responsible in monitoring and evaluating the patient's progress in several aspects, such as its physical, emotional, and psychological effects on the patient. If certain aspects are found not to be beneficial, changes in the intervention plan have to be made.

When should you see an Occupational therapist?

Occupational therapy is now widely available and easily accessible. If it is prescribed as part of a larger treatment plan for your health condition, your primary care provider or main specialist can refer you to a therapist. If you underwent surgery, an occupational therapist for recovery assistance could be accessed through your local hospital.

Medical professionals who provide occupational therapy programs are called occupational therapists. Occupational therapy is used for the treatment and management of the following:

  • Inborn mental impairments and physical disabilities
  • Work-related injuries (short-term recovery or long-term injuries)
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Brain injury
  • Amputation
  • Chronic health diseases such as multiple sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson's disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among others
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental health problems such as Alzheimer's disease or post-traumatic stress
  • Behavioral problems such as eating disorders and drug abuse


  • The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc.: “Occupational Therapy: Improving Function While Controlling Costs.”

  • The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc.: “Occupational Therapy and Ethics.”
  • NHS Medical Reference: “Occupational therapy – Techniques and equipment used in occupational therapy.”
  • NHS Medical Reference: “Occupational therapy – When occupational therapy is used.”
  • NHS Medical Reference: “Occupational therapy – How to access occupational therapy.”
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