What Does an Occupational Therapist Do? Exploring The Role

What does an occupational therapist do? Let’s explore this FAQ!

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people who suffer from physical, sensory, or cognitive health issues. But what does an occupational therapist do? An occupational therapist treats injured, ill, or disabled patients by using those patients’ everyday activities as therapy. Such healthcare professionals seek to help patients develop, recover, improve, and also maintain the skills needed for daily life, work, and socialization. Now let’s take a closer look at the role of an occupational therapist.

What Kind of Training Does an Occupational Therapist Complete?

Your health and that of your loved ones is very important. Therefore, you want to know that all your healthcare professionals are well-trained and highly proficient in their fields. 

There are two professional levels of occupational therapy practice:

  1. Occupational therapist: To become an occupational therapist, one needs to first complete a four-year degree in a related field like biology, psychology, or health science. Also, one would need to complete a master’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy program. 
  2. Occupational therapy assistant: This is the lower tier within occupational therapy practice. The educational requirement is the completion of an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. While an occupational therapy assistant can execute the treatment plans created by an occupational therapist, they can’t do patient evaluations. 

All occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants must complete supervised fieldwork programs and pass a national certification exam. Most states mandate that they have a license to be able to practice as well as complete continuing education classes. The latter ensures that all persons in the occupational therapy field in the USA are aware of the latest innovations in the field so that they can deliver exceptional care. 

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

An occupational therapist will work with anyone, of any age, to overcome their challenges and help them fully engage in all aspects of their daily lives. Their medical interventions range from conducting in-home assessments to create safe living environments, to aiding patients to successfully navigate their spaces. An occupational therapist focuses on helping patients with daily tasks such as getting dressed, cooking (if possible), eating, doing school work (or work), using a computer, and even driving safely. 

Typically, an occupational therapist will:

  • Observe patients completing tasks, ask them questions, and review patients’ medical histories. 
  • Leverage the outputs of the previous exercises (observations, interviews, and medical history reviews) to assess the respective patient’s current condition and health needs. 
  • Establish treatment plans for patients that specify the types of therapeutic activities and the specific goals that must be accomplished. 
  • Aid people with various disabilities to master different tasks. This may include assisting elderly patients with memory problems to use a computer or encouraging an autistic child to engage in play. 
  • Demonstrate exercises designed to bring pain relief to people suffering from chronic health conditions. 
  • Evaluate a patient’s home and/or workplace to identify specific changes that can improve the patient’s health. 
  • Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate the patient’s health needs. 
  • Recommend special equipment like wheelchairs and eating aids and teach patients how to use such equipment. 
  • Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patients’ evaluations, billing, and reporting to other members of every patient’s medical team.

Occupational Therapy Interventions in Specialized Areas

Let’s explore a few of the specialized settings that occupational therapists work in:

  • Patients with permanent disabilities (for example cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis) will need assistance to perform daily activities. Occupational therapists show these patients how to use adaptive equipment like leg or knee braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. They help patients to function independently within their living environment. 
  • Other occupational therapists work in educational institutions with children on an individual basis or in group settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate them, and assist these children in participating in school activities. Other occupational therapists also work with infants and toddlers who either have (or are at risk of having) developmental delays. 
  • Some occupational therapists provide medical care to elderly patients. These interventions help them enjoy more independent and active lives. A geriatric occupational therapist will assess each patient’s abilities at home and recommend specific adaptive equipment and a way to remove (and help remove) fall hazards in the home.
  • Occupational therapists may evaluate workspaces and plan work activities. They may also meet with a patient’s employer to collaborate on essential changes that need to be made to a patient’s work environment or schedule. 
  • You can also find occupational therapists in mental health institutions where they assist patients suffering from developmental disabilities, mental illness, substance abuse, depression, or other disorders. They show these patients how to engage in daily life by teaching them valuable skills such as time management, budgeting, public transport use, and completing house chores.
  • Other occupational therapists employed in hospitals and physicians’ offices serve as a part of a larger healthcare team. These teams often include doctors, registered nurses, and other therapists such as physical therapists and speech-and-language therapists. Furthermore, an occupational therapist may also oversee occupational therapy assistants and aides. 

Who Might Need Occupational Therapy?

Who might need occupational therapy? Anyone and everyone

Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages. In the case of children and teens some of the areas they address include: 

  • birth injuries or birth defects
  • sensory processing disorders
  • traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord
  • learning problems
  • autism
  • juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • mental health or behavioral problems
  • broken bones or other orthopedic injuries
  • developmental delays
  • post-surgical conditions
  • burns
  • spina bifida
  • traumatic amputations
  • cancer
  • severe hand injuries
  • multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses.

Occupational therapists also help adults in many areas such as:

  • Overcome physical challenges.
  • Master self-care skills such as homemaking, cooking, eating, dressing, and grooming.
  • Perform emotional and social adjustments to live fully in the face of injury, illness, or disabilities.
  • Promote independence, self-reliance, and aging-in-place among elderly patients. 
  • Eldercare advocacy. 
  • Collaborate with local governments and community groups to help adults maintain their independence. 

Need to Find an Occupational Therapist? We Can Help!

Asking “what does an occupational therapist do?” is quite common. Now it’s time to find an expert occupational therapist. At Moving With Hope, we have a great team of the best occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals who will help you achieve your health and wellness goals. Furthermore, we will work with your medical professionals to design a holistic treatment plan that best suits your needs. We invite you to contact us today so that we can work together to help you live a life that you enjoy!

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