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Occupational Therapy In A Nutshell

By Angana Vaishnav, OTD, OTR/L


What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a client centered healthcare profession that focuses on an individual’s overall well-being and enhances their ability to participate in their daily occupations and/or activities that add meaning to their lives. 

An individual’s occupations not only include their job but also include their daily activities like self-care, dressing, eating, driving and community mobility, play, leisure, sleep, meal preparation and social participation.

What does an Occupational Therapist do?

Occupational therapists play a significant role in the areas of mental health, physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, vocational rehabilitation, and aged care. They are an important part of a rehabilitation team as they focus on helping an individual gain functional independence following an injury, illness or disability and integrate them into the community.

Occupational therapy services typically include:

  • An individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
  • Customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals (includes adaptation of settings in which the person works, lives, and socializes)
  • Evaluating progress and modifying the intervention plan as needed to ensure achievement of the person’s goals.

“Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science”. (American Occupational Therapy Association).

Who would benefit from Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists work in a variety of areas and with a vast age range. Therefore, an individual that is being hampered by their illness, disability, or injury to fully engage in their daily activities would benefit from consulting with an occupational therapist. The individual as well as the people involved in the individual’s care work together with the therapist to help the individual engage in their daily tasks and adapting the environment/task as needed to maximize the individual’s participation. 

Following are some practice areas identified by the American Occupational Therapy Association in which occupational therapists can support and details regarding the challenges/diagnoses they work with in each area have also been discussed below.

  1.     Children and Youth
  • OTs work with children from birth.
  • They work with children in schools, clinics, hospitals, and homes.
  • Common diagnoses that OTs work with: developmental delays, fine motor difficulties, visual motor difficulties, sensory processing challenges, feeding and swallowing difficulties, autism, Down’s syndrome, cognitive and executive functioning delays.
  1.      Health and Wellness
  • OTs help with managing and preventing chronic diseases and maintaining an overall state of well-being.
  • Some examples: sleep disorders, pain management, sensory integration, diabetes self-management, breast cancer rehabilitation, arthritis. 
  1.     Mental Health
  • OTs provide mental health treatment and prevention services for different age groups and diagnoses.
  • They provide one on one treatment and also have training in the group process.
  • Individuals with mental health challenges may find it difficult to engage in their daily activities and participate in social settings. OTs focus on therapeutic activities, strategies, and adaptations to help an individual with mental health challenges function in these areas due to their broad training in physical and mental well-being as well as their holistic approach.
  • Examples of some areas: life skills, money management, health management, nutrition, leisure etc. They are also trained in providing calming and coping strategies.
  1.     Productive Aging
  • OTs support older adults to continue to engage in meaningful occupation.
  • The common challenges seen in old age that OTs work with are mobility challenges in the home and community, low vision, Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental health and reduced engagement in meaningful activities due to the above challenges.
  1.     Rehabilitation and Disability
  • OTs help improve patient outcomes to engage in their daily activities following life changing injuries or illnesses. 
  • Stroke, traumatic brain injury, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, arthritis and rheumatic conditions are some examples of diagnoses that OTs can work with.
  1.     Work and Industry
  • An individual’s work provides them with meaning, fulfillment as well as economic rewards. Therefore, OTs help an individual engage and reengage in work across the lifespan.
  • In addition to traditional physical and mental rehabilitation, OTs will focus on work specific rehabilitation to help an individual participate in specific tasks related to their job that they might face challenges with following an injury, illness, or disability.


American Occupational Therapy Association: https://www.aota.org/Practice.aspx

World Federation of Occupational Therapy: https://wfot.org/about/about-occupational-therapy