Occupational therapy is a dynamic and growing field, and prospective students have been eager to get on board and learn more about this line of work. The word therapist makes people think about sitting on a leather couch and talking out problems, and therefore, many individuals don’t know what to make of an “occupational therapist”. It’s a rewarding field, and once you know more about what it actually entails, you may just want to get moving on your studies as well.
So, what does an occupational therapist do? OT’s may have a wider range of potential responsibilities, or types of patients and goals, than any other “therapist”. In some ways, it combines aspects of physical therapy with psychological therapy, but it actually is much more, and different, than that. Occupational therapists work with patients to help improve their lives and get past disabilities or impairments of any variety.
That includes physical, developmental, mental and emotional problems which are standing in the way of a patient living a happy, complete and independent life. Patients can be young children who need to catch up, improve motor skills, get ready for school and more, or they can be adults rehabbing from terrible injuries which have resulted in physical or mental problems, or seniors looking to stay independent, keep healthy and move about, or even reenter the workforce. In truth, that’s only a small range of the possibilities, but you can use your imaginations from there to see who else an OT may be working with, and what else he or she will be trying to do.
As an occupational therapist, you’ll be working with a patient to directly improve their lives, and this can include very specific goals of learning one skill, overcoming one problem, or so forth, or very broad goals of needing to find a whole new way of adapting to a lifestyle, coping with an impairment and so forth.
This is a multi-step, ongoing journey, and there are many steps of the process. The first role of an occupational therapist is meeting with a new patient or client, and assessing, evaluating and even diagnosing core problems. Many patients will come to OT’s however already knowing their specific disability or impairment, and then an OT can jump right into assessing what that actually means in terms of what a patient is capable of doing, and what can be done to improve upon that.
From there, occupational therapists will need to develop a plan to get past the obstacle in any means necessary. The end goal could be completely overcoming a problem, recovering from an injury, learning a new skill or set of skills, adapting to a permanent disability or injury, getting job placements or preparedness to be employed, and on down the line. Depending on the patient, the problem and any specialty you may have, work could include physical training or rehabilitation, emotional coaching or therapy, real world exposure and challenges, and more.
Regular evaluations and assessments to keep note of progress, setbacks and all changes is of the utmost importance. Some occupational therapists may work with certain kinds of patients for indefinite periods of time, while others may help a patient through a challenge or problem and then be done with their work for that individual.
As you can see, occupational therapy is a very broad and diverse field, and there’s a lot to do and think about. The above guide should help prepare you though for your own journey as a prospective student, so you know what to expect, and whether or not this profession is something that you want to be pursuing.