Occupational Therapy

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a patient-centered therapy that aims to improve the health and well-being of an individual be able to conduct his or her “occupation.” In other words, this therapy is designed to assist the person needing help to get through his or her day-to-day activities. While many medical patients recovering from trauma or surgery are referred to occupational therapy providers by medical doctors, the main goal of occupational therapy is to help people achieve his or recovery or physical exertion goals to assist them in getting the most out of their lives.


Occupational therapy is recommended for people that find it difficult to perform their everyday tasks. While many patients are post-operative, others have become immobile or out of shape due to inactivity or difficulty with any tasks involving exertion. Occupational therapists treat people of all ages and who may be experiencing a wide range of conditions or adverse symptoms.

Some of the more common people needing occupational therapy treatment include:


  • people with physical disabilities that are present from birth
  • people with physical disabilities resulting from traumatic accident or debilitating illness
  • people who have learning disabilities
  • people with certain chronic or progressive medical conditions
  • people with certain mental health conditions

Who can benefit from occupational therapy?

As shown above, occupational therapy is used to treat a number of very different conditions. These can be grouped, generally, into one of five categories.

Medical conditions: People that experience health conditions that limit or restrict their movement and their mobility may benefit from occupational therapy. A few of these conditions include arthritis-based limitations, orthopedic conditions (such as bad hip joint or painful knee), multiple sclerosis sufferers (MS) and those afflicted by Parkinson’s disease.

Mental health conditions: Occupational therapy may be prescribed or recommended for people with depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Building confidence in physical capabilities helps many people be able to get back to engaging in their normal activities of work.

Disabilities: Children and adults, often with disabilities starting at birth, can be helped by occupational therapy. These conditions include cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, spina bifida and autistic spectrum conditions. Depending on the severity and progression of these medical conditions, a person may greatly benefit from occupational therapy as a means of regaining full or improved movement and flexibility.

Age-related conditions: Occupational therapy can be used to help people who experience problems that develop as part of the aging process, such as loss of mobility. Sitting on a sofa or easy chair all day long or lying in bed is contrary to movement, which is the essential goal of most occupational therapists. Increasing movement and flexibility through therapy is also helpful for those with some age-related mental conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Rehabilitation: Occupational therapy is also used to help people recovering from accidents, surgery or illnesses. Soldiers wounded in combat often require years of therapy before they are able to re-enter the work force.

What does occupational therapy involve?

If you are referred by a physician for occupational therapy, you can select your own occupational therapist (unless your health plan directs you to an institutional therapist who is paid by your medical plan) who will draw up a treatment program to help meet your unique needs. As each therapy case is different, the work or your occupational therapist varies from person to person. Much of the plan for you is determined and outlined at your initial appointment after the occupational therapist asks you to engage in a series of movements (such as touching your toes) and flexing maneuvers to establish a baseline of the current limitations on your ability to extend or bend your arms, legs, fingers or even your torso.

On your first meeting for occupational therapy, the therapist will try assess your current lifestyle and the extent of your mobility. He or she will examine the day-to-day areas of your limitation of motion, and identify routine activities for which you are experiencing difficulties. The therapist will discuss with you what you would like to achieve and any goals you may have for expanding your capabilities and activity levels for the future.

The therapist will then compose a list of recommendations and a schedule for implementing those therapeutic progressions in order to help you cope with everyday activities and to manage your life. This regime can include:

Finding new ways to do everyday activities: At the outset, you may be advised to look at new and different ways of doing everyday activities as a means of increasing movement and flexibility. For example, if you are no longer able to walk to your mailbox which is located 200 feet from your front door, you may be taught to get up from your sofa or chair hourly and walk to the farthest point in your home or apartment and back, just as a means of increasing movement and stamina.

When your occupational disability requires you to cease attempting some tasks. If it is too difficult for you to perform certain regular tasks, such as going shopping for groceries, a part of your occupational therapy treatment may include learning how to use the Internet to shop for most of the things you need. Furthermore, the occupational therapy provider may give you lists of volunteer groups, government programs, pharmaceutical delivery options or charitable organizations who can assist you with weekly delivery of perishable products that you need. By way of example, many city or county libraries now offer delivery of large print and regular books to your door, rather than you trying to negotiate the public library.

Adaptations to your home. Occupational therapy recommendations may include adapting areas of your home to make it easier for you to be more mobile and to get around inside your home so as to perform everyday activities. Examples of this include installing railings or electric lifts for stairs. In your bathroom, door openings may need to be widened and the toilet replaced with a proper handicapped commode. Ramps may be needed to make access to your residence or areas within your home accessible by wheelchair. Families that have children with severe autism or other learning disabilities are often advised to install high fencing around their gardens or to erect a gate and window locks, to prevent their children from escaping and possibly being harmed.

The use of special equipment: Another aspect of occupational therapy is the provision of special equipment to help make performing everyday activities easier, such as canes or walkers, electric toothbrushes and voice-controlled equipment that can help you to use a computer or turn lights on and off.

Rehabilitation through DOING routine things on a daily basis: Occupational therapy is designed to not only to make day-to-day activities easier, but also to help people get the most enjoyment from their lives, regardless of their limited mobility. An important part of occupational therapy is rehabilitation, but an ancillary component to therapy, especially with aging patients, is showing the patient how he or she can adjust certain aspects of home life to adapt to the realities of their age and physical limits. People that have mental health conditions, or those whose lives have been changed dramatically by accidents or illness may be given advice and support to help them find employment. Many aging patients can also be encouraged to find new hobbies or daily activities (such as completing crossword puzzles, solving Sudoku games or playing chess) that may have fallen by the wayside as a result of their slowly-evolving loss of mobility. The Internet, smart phones, tablet computers and electronic book readers have made reading books and playing games as simple and accessible as any time in history.