Occupational Therapy

In occupational therapy, occupations refer to the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. 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.


Who is an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist or OT for short is an allied health professional that treats patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.

Occupational therapists manage physical, mental, developmental, and emotional ailments that impact a patient’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.

As such, an occupational therapist is a practitioner who uses therapeutic techniques to improve, rehabilitate, or maintain a patient’s ability to perform everyday activities.

Occupational therapy differs from other healthcare professions like physical therapy or nursing in its focus on treating the whole patient, rather than treating a particular injury, ailment, or disability.

For example, after surgery, a nurse might assist a patient with pain management, dressing changes, and care during recovery. An occupational therapist, on the other hand, will assess the activities that are important to the patient and teach them how to become independent again following the surgery, so that they can resume the roles that define who they are.


Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

There are several possibilities of places to work as an occupational therapist depending on what age group you would like to work with.


  • Personal homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Community centers
  • Schools
  • Hospitals


What Are The Key Roles And Responsibilities Of Occupational Therapists?

Generally, occupational therapists work with their patients by taking a therapeutic approach to everyday activities. Broadly, this means that occupational therapists are responsible for helping patients develop, recover, improve in regards to a condition or injury, as well as maintain the skills needed to execute daily activities. But, what does this actually entail?

In general, OTs are responsible for a wide range of duties and tasks related to patient care. Depending on the setting in which they work, the roles of an OT often include:

  • Evaluating a patient’s condition and needs
  • Developing treatment plans to address a patient’s needs and help them meet specific goals
  • Assessing a patient’s home and/or work environment and recommending adaptations to fit the patient’s needs and improve independence
  • Training patients and their caregivers to use special equipment
  • Assess and document progress for evaluation, billing, and reporting purposes
  • And more

The day-to-day activities that occupational therapists take part in will also likely be influenced by the settings in which they work. Many occupational therapists work in a hospital or private practice setting, however, there are many opportunities to work in other environments. For example, some practitioners work in educational settings to assist in child development or with the elderly to lessen the struggles that come along with aging. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit may even choose to open and manage their own private practice.


Required Skills

While occupational therapists come from all backgrounds, there are several key skills and qualities that lend themselves well to the nature of occupational therapy work. For instance, it is important for these professionals to have a strong sense of compassion and empathy in order to work with their patient’s best interests in mind. In fact, many occupational therapists are drawn to this line of work from a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

In addition to having a people-oriented mindset, there are several skills that OTs should have to be successful in the field. Among these include:


  • Communication skills: OTs must have strong written and verbal communication skills in order to effectively understand the needs of their patients and explain the treatment process. Additionally, they must be able to clearly document treatment plans and progress, as well as collaborate with other healthcare professionals.


  • Problem Solving: Since no two cases will ever be the same, good OTs must demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills to determine the best course of action for each unique situation.


  • Patience and Flexibility: Oftentimes, occupational therapy is a long road to restoring a patient’s independence. Good OTs must be patient and flexible when dealing with the high and low points throughout this process.

Occupational Therapy

How Occupational Therapists work

  • Assessment: The occupational therapy process is based on initial and repeated assessments. The occupational therapist together with the person they are working with focuses on individual and environmental abilities and problems related to activities in the person’s daily life. Assessment includes the use of standardized procedures, interviews, observations in a variety of settings, and consultation with significant people in the person’s life.


  • Planning: The results of the assessment are the basis of the plan which includes short and long-term aims of treatment. The plan should be relevant to the person’s development stage, habits, roles, lifestyle preferences, and the environment.


  • Intervention: Intervention focuses on programs that are person-oriented and environmental. These are designed to facilitate the performance of everyday tasks and adaptation of settings in which the person works, lives, and socializes. Examples include teaching new techniques and providing equipment that facilitates independence in personal care, reducing environmental barriers, and providing resources to lessen stress.


  • Cooperation: Occupational therapists recognize the importance of teamwork. Cooperation and coordination with other professionals, families, caregivers and volunteers are important in the realization of the holistic approach.


What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

Occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists to help patients develop and recover activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, driving, and working. They also help patients improve and maintain skills. As an occupational therapy assistant, you will be directly involved in providing therapy and care to patients.


Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 10,100 openings for occupational therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

BLS Facts: Occupational Therapists
2020 Median Pay $86,280 per year
$41.48 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2020 131,600
Job Outlook, 2020-30 17% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 23,000


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