They do this through activities designed to develop, maintain or retrain skills for people with a disorder, condition or illness (whether that be cognitive, physical or mental). In occupational therapy, “occupation” doesn’t necessarily mean a job or employment.
It means the activities that people do every day; these activities bring meaning to a person’s life and occupy their time. For a child with a disability, that could mean meeting milestones such as crawling, speaking or walking, while for an adult recovering from a stroke, it might be using a fork or spoon again.
Occupational therapists work in the following fields:
- Rehabilitation (post-stroke or surgery) and aged care
- With children (reaching developmental milestones, for example, holding a pencil or behavioural management) or their carers
- Acute facilities (mental health, burns, surgical wards) where the condition is sudden and severe or in assessment and monitoring
- Injury management (return to work programmes, education, modifying environments to minimise risk or injuries)
How an occupational therapist assists a client will vary. Some clients may require ongoing help over a long period of time, for example, after a stroke or major accident; these clients may need help learning to walk again, get out of bed, fill a kettle or unlock a door. Some clients will only need assistance with a small, specific task for a short period of time, such as a child acquiring the correct pencil grip for school. An OT can visit a worksite and ensure there are no risks for injury or to assess an environment for a worker returning after an accident.