About the Profession
Occupational therapy (OT) is guided by the evidence that health is affected by the nature and pattern of activities in which persons engage. The goal of OT is to facilitate occupational performance through engagement in meaningful activities or occupations.
Occupational therapists are health professionals who help people across the life span participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of meaningful activities that we call “occupations.” The work of an OT involves analyzing the biological, psychological, and social components of lifestyle. Occupational therapists aim to enable people with or without disabilities to perform, modify, or adapt their desired activities in order to live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
Occupational therapists work in a wide range of settings and use a variety of assessment and intervention techniques to address goals developed in collaboration with the client.
Occupational therapists may do the following:
Provide customized training in daily living activity and community life skills
Assess and address physical, cognitive, psychosocial, sensory, and other aspects of performance
Train on the incorporation of health-promoting habits and routines into daily life
Evaluate and modify home, work, or school environments
Create community programs and interventions
Facilitate problem-solving and strategizing
Prescribe specialized equipment
There are six overarching areas of OT practice. Each features a variety of settings, populations, and diagnoses. They are children and youth; health and wellness; mental health; productive aging; rehabilitation, participation, and disability; and work and industry.
Occupational therapists may specialize in such areas as hand therapy; gerontology; mental health; pediatrics; physical rehabilitation; driving and community mobility; environmental modification; feeding, eating and swallowing; and low vision. Academic background occupational therapists must complete a master’s degree in occupational therapy. This education equips students with a solid grounding in both medical and social sciences.
Common goals of all occupational therapy programs are to produce graduates who are:
Science-driven, evidence-based practitioners able to meet societal needs
Skilled in articulating and applying therapeutic use of occupations or activities
Proficient in planning and applying OT interventions to address physical, cognitive, psychosocial, sensory, and other aspects of performance in a variety of contexts and environments to support health, well-being, and quality of life
Competent in upholding the ethical standards, values, and attitudes of the occupational therapy profession
Capable of effectively communicating and working interprofessionally
Competent in advocating for the occupational therapy services offered and for the recipients of those services.
Most occupational therapy master’s programs are 2 years. Topics include medical sciences, occupational development and performance, and various practice areas.
In addition to didactic and hands-on lab courses, students participate in fieldwork experiences where they practice evaluation and intervention under the supervision of occupational therapists or other health-related professionals. Prior to graduating from OT school, students must complete two sessions of 12 full-time weeks of Level II fieldwork. OTs must be registered by passing a national certification examination and must be licensed in the states where they work. In order to remain licensed, an OT must also participate in continuing education and complete the required number of professional development units.