Occupational therapy is for patients of all ages.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational Therapy (OT) helps patients become more independent by focusing on treating cognitive, sensory, or physical disabilities. For children, OT can enable them to play, learn, and engage in daily, developmentally appropriate, activities. OT is also important for adults.1 The occupational therapist will work with adults to regain skills. Each patient is treated as an individual with “customized intervention”. Occupational therapists can also recommend “adaptive equipment”.2 Historically, occupational therapy was conceived of as a health profession. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) was founded in 1917. Unlike mainstream medicine, occupational therapists believed that dysfunction was caused by physical as well as social and economic factors. World War I, with its wartime injuries, created an increased need for “reconstruction aides”, which included occupational and physical therapists. The three main stages of occupational therapy are “evaluation, intervention, and outcomes”.3
Occupational therapists can work with childhood development, overall health and wellness, those with mental health problems, and with the aging process. Frequently, occupational therapy is used in rehabilitation and with disabled patients. Occupational therapists may practice in hospitals, nursing facilities, rehabilitation programs, and in home health. They may work with autistic patients, cancer patients, amputees, and those with traumatic brain injuries. In addition, clients who have had injuries could receive help from occupational therapists so that they can return to work. Occupational therapists may also recommend ergonomic solutions to prevent workplace injuries.4
Occupational Therapy Training
To become an occupational therapist, specialized training is necessary. The AOTA lists many academic programs. Some are Master’s-level, while others are Doctoral-level.5 After the Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, occupational therapists typically need a state license, which requires completion of an accredited program, fieldwork, and passing the NBCOT exam.6 Occupational therapy assistant or occupational therapy aides are other career path options. Occupational therapy assistants require an Associate’s degree. There are accredited programs for this. Licensing is also required in most states. To become an occupational therapy aide, a high school diploma is required.7 Occupational therapy assistants work under the supervision and direction of the occupational therapist. Some may work in hospitals, while others can find positions in private practices, nursing care facilities, schools, or with in-home care.8
Occupational vs. Physical Therapy
There are differences between physical therapists and occupational therapists, not only with regard to training. While therapeutic techniques may be similar, physical therapy’s goal is for a patient to regain flexibility, balance and mobility. Occupational therapy’s goal is to help patients “take care of themselves and participate in meaningful activities”, such as working, driving, or eating. Physical therapists learn how to work with people with birth defects or who are recovering from surgery or an accident, while occupational therapists often perform therapy for patients with emotional or mental illnesses as well.9
Learn more about physical therapy.