Occupational Therapy

A Definition

When we hear the word "occupation", we almost automatically think of something related to the work people do to earn their livelihood, as when we ask the question "What is your occupation?" In occupational therapy, the word occupation is used in a broader sense, and refers to any of the many activities people do on a daily basis that have meaning to them and "occupy" their time. This broader view of occupation certainly includes work activities, but it also includes play and leisure activities as well as our self-care activities, like bathing and dressing, and home management, to name a few.

Occupational therapists believe that being involved in activities that people find meaningful, contributes to their health. Play among children is a good example of how this idea works. The primary focus of childhood is development, physical, social, cognitive and emotional, and we use play to help children in this developmental process.  Therefore, occupational therapists believe that these play "occupations" of childhood contribute to a child's continuing growth and health.  Similarly, the "occupations" of adulthood, while not necessarily developmental as in a child, nonetheless contribute to health and well being, by helping to support and maintain important roles and meaningful activities or routines in adults' lives.  Furthermore, occupational therapists also believe that the lack of meaningful activities and important roles can cause physical, spiritual, and mental disability.

Because of the beliefs described above, occupational therapists use meaningful tasks or "occupations" to promote and restore health to people when their ability to participate in these tasks has been diminished or may become diminished.  Some of the reasons why a person might experience a decreased ability to participate in meaningful tasks, roles or routines include:  illness, injury, aging, developmental delays, adjustment problems, mental illness, lack of social support, lack of self-esteem, poverty, or lack of access, for example.

Any person, who experiences a change in the ability to participate in meaningful activities, may benefit from occupational therapy services. The occupational therapist is able to help individuals return to carrying out the tasks and roles they desire. The occupational therapist uses practice in the everyday activities and routines of an individual to allow the individual to be able to participate in meaningful roles in a competent way.

Practice in everyday activities can be enhanced through the use of assistive devices, changes in the environment, or changes in the occupation itself.  The occupational therapist may also use a daily occupation as a tool to rebuild lost skills that are needed to perform that occupation.  The occupational therapist makes the decision about how to assist an individual by first assessing his/her particular needs and desires. Then the occupational therapist and the individual select together the most appropriate occupation to help him/her achieve the most satisfactory degree of independence he/she is able.

Learn more about OT by visiting the website for the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Page last modified January 22, 2014