Occupational Therapy 101

OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY

While PT Solutions has teams of physical therapists and speech-language pathologists, we are also proud to have occupational therapists to help patients become confident in their independence. National Occupational Therapy Month recently passed, but it’s always important to discuss exactly what occupational therapy is, why it’s so important, and the different occupational therapy options that exist today.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is designed to help people with physical and/or mental limitations. Occupational therapists assist their patients in maintaining independence regarding their activities of daily living (ADLs). This term refers to any and all tasks that patients deem important in their everyday lives. The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process breaks these daily activities into the following categories: bathing/showering, bowel and bladder management, dressing, eating, feeding, functional mobility, personal device care, personal hygiene and grooming, sexual activity, sleep/rest, and toilet hygiene. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are also grouped by the OT Practice Framework. IADLs are described as less personal tasks that can be performed by other people if the patient needs. These tasks are identified as: care of others, care of pets, child rearing, communication device use, community mobility, financial management, health management and maintenance, home establishment and management, meal preparation and cleanup, safety procedures and emergency responses, and shopping. The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework goes on to describe the remaining areas of occupation that patients of all ages participate in: education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.

All of the above-mentioned activities are aspects of everyday life that are very important. When one of these areas becomes impossible to perform, life quickly becomes less enjoyable and independence is no longer achieved. Occupational therapists help people to continue to participate in these areas of life despite their limitations.  To do so, they use a patient-centered approach. This means that regardless of what the occupational therapist may feel is of importance to the patient, it is the patient who directs their own care.

Upon first meeting a patient, the occupational therapist will ask, “What is most important to you?” The therapist will then help their patient get back to doing the things they want and need to do through one of four interventions as described by the OT Practice Framework

  • Therapeutic Use of Self: The occupational therapist’s planned use of their own personality, insights, perceptions, and judgments as part of the therapeutic process.
  • Therapeutic Use of Occupations and Activities: Occupations and activities selected for specific patients that meet therapeutic goals. To use occupations and activities therapeutically, context, activity demands, and client factors all should be considered in relation to the patient’s therapeutic goals.
    • Occupation-Based Activity: Allows patients to engage in behaviors or activities that match their own goals and lifestyles. Examples include playing on playground during recess, buying groceries to cook their own meal, adapt assembly lines to achieve greater safety, or putting on clothes without assistance. 
    • Purposeful Activity: Allows patients to engage in goal-directed behaviors or activities within a therapeutically designed context that lead to an occupation. Examples include practicing slicing vegetables, drawing a straight line, getting in and out of a bathtub with grab bars, or role playing to learn ways to manage emotions. 
    • Preparatory Methods: Prepares clients for occupational performance. Preparatory methods are used in preparation for purposeful and occupation-based activities. Examples include sensory input to promote optimal response, modalities (ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc), orthotics, splinting, and exercise.
  • Consultation Process: A type of intervention in which occupational therapists use their knowledge and expertise to collaborate with the client. This involves identifying the problem, creating possible solutions, and altering them as necessary for greater effectiveness.
  • Education Process: An intervention process that involves the imparting of knowledge and information about occupation and activity.

Who Does an Occupational Therapist Work With? 

An occupational therapist may help a very wide variety of patients. These may include: 

  • Disabled children
  • People who suffered accident injuries
  • Elderly people who are losing physical abilities
  • Employers looking to create a safer work environment

How Does an Occupational Therapy Program Work? 

An occupational therapy program will begin with a thorough evaluation of the patient. This initial evaluation will consist of a discussion with the patient regarding their goals for the therapy program. Occupational therapy is patient-centered, always placing the goals of the patient first. 

The occupational therapist will design a plan to help their patient manage their daily activities in a more effective way so that they can meet their goals. Patients will learn new ways of doing basic tasks, and will learn ways to alter the routines they currently have to make their lives easier. 

To make sure that the occupational therapy plan is as effective as possible, the therapist will often accompany the patient to work, school, or their usual daily environment. This allows the therapist to recommend special adaptive equipment that will help the client new routines into place more easily. If new adaptive equipment is recommended, the occupational therapist will work with the patient as they learn to use the equipment safely and effectively. 

What Are the Long-Term Benefits of Occupational Therapy? 

Ultimately, occupational therapy is beneficial for any patient because it helps them change their environment in the most effective ways. A patient working through occupational therapy will feel more in control of their life, stronger, and more confident because they have been given the tools to adapt their environment to their lives.

A disability or injury does not have to stop you from living your life. Our team of occupational therapists is here to help you live the best life you possibly can. Schedule an appointment to discuss your personalized treatment plan today!