Occupational Therapists assess and treat physical and psychological conditions in patients to maximise their levels of independence in everyday life. Therapists work with a wide variety of people whose problems may be congenital or the result of an accident, ageing or lifestyle.
Occupational therapists are experts at assessing how different health conditions can affect people’s abilities and helping people to overcome or work around the difficulties that are affecting their daily lives.
Occupational Therapy focuses on people’s strengths and is always guided by the client’s preferences. By tailoring a programme that responds to the client’s unique situation and needs Occupational Therapy helps people to live their lives in a way that is meaningful and satisfying for them. It involves enabling individuals and groups to do the things that they need and want to do in everyday life, and assists people to develop and maintain a meaningful lifestyle.
The therapy involves a process of assessment, action planning, and reviewing, enabling patients to target obstacles in their lives, tackle them effectively, and make the most of their lives and activities.
The therapist focuses on three areas as follows:
- The individual: improving or maintaining their level of physical, cognitive, emotional and social ability.
- The environment: adapting the physical, social, cultural and institutional environment.
- The task : analysing the task, comparing the demands of the task with the individual’s abilities, and changing the task to make it possible for the person to do.
- Making sure that homes, workplaces and public places are accessible for people with specific needs.
- Carrying out an assessment of an individual’s ability to function in relation to the normal requirements of living – dressing, eating, interacting socially etc.
- Visiting a disabled or elderly person to make their home easier and safer for them to use.
- Assessing home arrangements and deciding as to what assistance is needed, by way of appliances such as wheelchairs and chair lifts.
- Advising schools to help children overcome writing difficulties and other learning challenges.
- Easing the transition back into the home after being hospitalised.
- Improving the play and movement skills of a baby or child with a disability.
- Working with builders, architects and local authorities to design public places and homes that will suit people with various different abilities.
- Working with people with mental health difficulties to assist them in planning and organising a meaningful lifestyle.
- Maintaining and advancing professional knowledge and keeping up with technical and clinical progress in order to offer clients the best treatment available.
Occupational therapists work in many different practice settings including hospitals, day care facilities, nursing homes, schools, universities, community centres and workplaces. Many also work in private practice and provide occupational therapy in the client’s home or residential setting.
Most newly qualified occupational therapists work with a general caseload for at least a year, before choosing a type of clinical work in which to specialise. As clinical experience grows so too do opportunities to move into more senior posts and specialise in working with a particular group. There are opportunities for further study and development of specialised expertise in areas such as physical and psychiatric rehabilitation, hand therapy, health services management, learning disability, disability studies and community occupational therapy. Others move into research, teaching or management.
Skills and qualities
Occupational Therapists must have the ability to build and maintain good relationships with a wide range of people; the capacity to listen carefully, excellent verbal and written communication skills; patience, tact and empathy to people’s needs. They must also be practical, creative, and problem-solvers with a ‘can-do’ attitude and the ability to see the many different factors that can affect someone’s outlook. If you are responsible, enthusiastic and can make your own decisions, as well as work in co-operation with others, Occupational Therapy might be the career for you.