What Is Occupational Therapy?

This type of treatment can help if you have pain, injury, illness, or a disability that makes it hard for you to do your job or schoolwork, care for yourself, complete household chores, move around, or take part in activities.

Occupational therapy (OT) teaches you how to adapt. It can help you perform any kind of task at school, work, or in your home. You’ll learn how to use tools (you may hear them called assistive devices) if you need them.

You’ll meet with a health professional called an occupational therapist who can come up with ways to change your movements so you can get your work done, take care of yourself or your home, play sports, or stay active.

It can help you do specific things like:

  • Eat without help from others
  • Take part in leisure activities
  • Do office work
  • Bathe and get dressed
  • Do laundry or clean up around the house

What Is an Occupational Therapist?

They get special graduate training in occupational therapy. You’ll probably hear them called OTs. They must be licensed and pass a national exam to be certified to practice.

Some OTs go through more training so they can focus on certain types of treatment, like hand therapy, treating people with low vision, or working with children or older adults.

Occupational therapy assistants help with some parts of your treatment. They don’t assess you or create your therapy plan. An OT assistant needs an associate’s degree.

OT’s and OTA’s often work with your doctor, physical therapist, psychologist, or other health professionals.

What Does an OT Do?

They work with people of all ages, from premature babies to young children, adults in midlife, and seniors.

In short, the therapist looks at how you do any kind of activity or task. Then they come up with a plan to improve the way you do it to make it easier or less painful.

At your first appointment, the OT will assess your needs. They may come to your home or workplace to see what you do and what changes you need to make. If they're working with your child, they can go to his school. They might tell you to move furniture or get an assistive device like a cane or grabber. They can show you how to do daily chores better.

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Next, they’ll work with you to come up with a therapy plan and set goals designed for your needs, disability, or limits. Your OT can train you to adapt your movements, improve your motor skills or hand-eye coordination, or do tasks in new ways.

Your OT may:

  • Prescribe and train you to use assistive devices like raised toilet seats or wheelchairs
  • Teach you new ways to button a shirt, tie your shoes, get in and out of the shower, or work on your computer
  • Help older adults prevent falls in their home or in public areas
  • Treat adults who’ve had a stroke to improve balance, change their home to prevent injuries, build muscle strength, or adapt to their memory or speech problems
  • Organize your medications or household tools
  • Address behavior problems in kids who act out or hit others
  • Build hand-eye coordination so you can hit a tennis ball
  • Work on motor skills so you can grasp a pencil

Who Needs Occupational Therapy?

Just about anyone who struggles to do any kind of task may need it.

If you have one of these health problems, ask your doctor if OT could help you:

It can also help kids with birth defects, ADHD, juvenile arthritis, autism, or severe injuries or burns.

Where Do You Get It?

Your therapist may come to your home, workplace, or school to create a treatment plan. OTs also work in many places like these:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehab centers
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Nursing or assisted living homes
  • Schools
  • Private practice offices
  • Prisons
  • Corporate offices
  • Industrial workplaces
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Ross Brakeville, DPT on June 27, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Occupational Therapy Association.

ExploreHealthCareers.org: “Occupational Therapist.”

American College of Rheumatology: “The Role of the Occupational Therapist in the Management of Rheumatic Disease.”

KidsHealth.org, Nemours Foundation: “Occupational Therapy.”

Ithaca College: “What Is Occupational Therapy?”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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