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What is Occupational Therapy?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 17, 2024
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Occupational therapy helps people with physical, developmental, mental, or emotional disabilities to perform tasks required by their daily lives and/or work duties. The goal of occupational therapy is to help a person lead a self-reliant, productive, and rewarding life. This type of therapy encompasses many types of activities, ranging from hygiene tasks to cooking to the use of a computer. The type of disability determines the type of occupational therapy required.

Occupational therapy occurs in schools, hospitals, health care rehabilitation centers, and community centers. Occupational therapy can help a patient with physical or motor functions such as hand-eye coordination, as well as with problem solving, perceptual, and reasoning tasks. Physical exercises can develop muscle strength, dexterity, and coordination.

Those with memory loss or similar problems may receive occupational therapy to promote recall, decision-making, and reasoning skills. Patients with permanent disabilities receive occupational therapy to learn to use adaptive equipment necessary to function in daily life or to communicate effectively. Another function of occupational therapy is to provide impaired individuals with assistance to continue in their line of work. In these situations, an occupational therapist can assist in evaluating and modifying a work environment.

The growing age of the population has increased the demand for occupational therapy. The elderly are especially in need of occupational therapy to continue to lead active, independent lives. Therapists can assess and make recommendations regarding older drivers and also check the homes of the elderly to identify hazards that might cause accidents.

In the mental health field, occupational therapy assists patients in coping with daily life. Patients dealing with substance abuse, depression, stress, eating disorders, or other emotional issues can benefit from occupational therapy, which includes time management, domestic skills, shopping, and transportation tasks.

Occupational therapy is used in schools to evaluate children, modify classroom equipment, and assist children so that they may completely take part in educational activities. Children who have developmental delays or are at risk of delays may benefit from early intervention therapy. These activities build listening, social, and grooming skills, among others.

Professionals trained in occupational therapy study biological, physical, and behavioral science. Most occupational therapists have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, complete a supervised practicum, and pass a national certification exam. The field of occupational therapy is regulated by each state.

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