What is Occupational Therapy?

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What is Occupational Therapy?


“Occupational therapy is a health and rehabilitation profession. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who need specialized assistance to lead independent, productive, and satisfying lives due to physical, developmental, social, or emotional problems. Occupational therapists use the “occupations” of self-care, work, and play/leisure activities to increase independence, enhance development, and/or prevent disability. To achieve these goals, occupational therapists may also adapt the task or the environment.” (Ithaca College).

Physical Needs

A person’s physical needs are those that enable the individual to function in a manner that increases their self-maintenance, enhancement, and advancement (Radomsky and Catherine 8). As such, it is the role of the Occupational Therapist [OT] to assist them to meet those individual needs and in the process improve their overall Quality of life (Kielhofner 57). However, for the OT to achieve success with patients with physical needs, the external environmental factors (physical, social, and attitude) and internal personal needs must be addressed.

Since occupational therapy is a process and not an event, various stages must be accomplished to achieve the desired result with the patient. These stages include identifying the problem which is done through analysis of what the patient wants to do and what they are physically able to do (Finlay 195). Further, after identifying the discrepancy between want and ability, the OT can design an intervention program with the patient’s input and finally implements the intervention program.

The inability to perform a physical function may be caused by a birth defect, disease, or an accident. In the case of an accident or disease, the ability is diminished or lost. Thus, this lose of competence can be restored through various regimes that encourage the patient to regain their life roles (Radomsky and Catherine 6). For instance, if an activity such as playing with a dog in the park increases a patient’s self-enhancement role, the OT can aid the patient to regain this ability by incorporating the physical environment in the regime as an enabler (Söderback 159). Thus, if the patient has lost the physical ability to throw a toy for the dog, the OT can assist them to regain this ability gradually. Besides, if the patient seeks to enhance their self-advancement role through some form of work they enjoy doing, the OT can provide them with the physical environment that can act as an enabler to improve their physical recovery. However, this is on the premise that the OT has already identified their level of physical limitation and thus what is needed to improve it.

Nonetheless, where the physical ability has completely been lost or is missing, adaptive measures are taken to ensure the patient meets some of their roles (Ferrel, Coyle, and Paice 357). For instance, if a patient has lost the use of their limps due to paralysis, it limits their ability for self-care. In this case, the OT’s can include another patient who was in a similar position in the therapy regime to act as an example and a source of encouragement (Johnson 9). Besides, helping the patient adapt to new ways of accomplishing certain activities would also improve their sense of independence and self-esteem.



Developmental Needs

Although OT is associated with adults who have occupations, it is necessary for individuals experiencing developmental challenges, especially children. Developmental challenges in children are not necessarily occasioned by medical conditions but can also be due to environmental, social, or emotional issues (Eynat, Schreur, and Engel-Yeger 90). As such, OT becomes necessary as it focuses not only on the physical well being of the child but also their sensory and cognitive skills.

Different cognitive skills are associated with different ages in the development of a person. Therefore, by comparing individuals of similar ages, it is possible to identify the developmental challenges of an individual and design a regime that fits their individual needs. For instance, OT can assist a child who has difficulty in accomplishing daily functions that would increase their independence like brushing their teeth, hair, and dressing themselves among other activities (Autism Speaks). Further, children with delayed speech conditions may be placed in environments that encourage the development of these skills like playgrounds that offer a physical enabling environment.

Besides, other conditions such as autism have been combated through the use of companions such as pets (Autism Speaks). Thus, the OT can assist an autistic child to identify a companion that benefits their life interactions (AOTA 128). Nonetheless, in dealing with developmental needs of patients, the OT is equipped to design an individual tailored regime that meets their unique needs.

Emotional Needs

Emotional needs among individuals may arise due to various factors including mental and developmental challenges among children. However, when a child displays symptoms of emotional distress like tantrums, an evaluation by an OT may be necessary to determine the cause and source of the distress and if necessary assist the child accomplish age-suitable activities.

Through evaluation, a child’s source of emotional distress can be identified by an OT. For instance, if the evaluation reveals that a child’s source of emotional distress is occasioned by frustration caused by sensory, movement balance, and motor skills, the OT can design activities that enable the child to accomplish those activities without getting frustrated (Mulligan 5). Some of the activities used to remedy the situation may be the appropriate use of tools to aid in movement is the child lacks balance. However, for other patients experiencing emotional distress due to physical injuries, the understanding of emotional intelligence may assist in the reduction of distress (Mulligan 9). Further, OT’s have been called to use their skills in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy [CBT] to assist young people suffering from mental illnesses.

Due to the varied nature of emotions ranging from anxiety to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]that may interfere with an individual’s ability to perform their normal social functions. However, the use of CBT and Social and Emotional Learning [SEL] has assisted patients to cope with their anxieties. Besides, OT helps the patients identify the triggers for their anxiety and comes up with strategies to include in their daily activities (Careers, Allied). Consequently, OT provides a means to the management of emotional needs from various categories of patients by tailoring the intervention measures to the patient needs.

In conclusion, OT is necessary for the restoration of physical, developmental, and emotional needs of various segments of the population. Through the use of physical activities and environmental enhancers, patients are assisted to rediscover their self-esteem and confidence through physical independence. Besides, developmental challenges are addressed through individualized strategies that tackle each person’s challenges. Further, emotional needs are addressed through CBT and SEL strategies that enable patients to enhance their social activities and manage their anxieties.





















Works Cited

AOTA. “Scope Of Occupational Therapy Services For Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorder Across The Life Course.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy, vol. 69, no. 3, 2015, pp.125-136.

Autism Speaks. “Autism and Pets: More Evidence Of Social Benefits.” Autism Speaks, 2017, Accessed 1 November 2017

Careers, Allied. “Occupational Therapy In Mental Health | A Guide To Using OT For Mental Illnesses – Allied Travel Careers.” Allied Travel Careers, 2017, Accessed 1 November 2017

Ferrell, Betty, Nessa Coyle, and Judith A. Paice. Oxford Textbook of Palliative Nursing. Oxford University Press, 2015.


Finlay, Linda. The Practice of Psychosocial Occupational Therapy. Nelson Thornes, 2004.

Gal, Eynat, Naomi Schreur, and Batya Engel-Yeger. “Inclusion of Children with Disabilities: Teachers’ Attitudes and Requirements for Environmental Accommodations.”International Journal of Special Education, vol. 25, no.2 2010, pp. 89-99.

Ithaca College. “What Is Occupational Therapy?” – Occupational Therapy – School Of Health Sciences And Human Performance – Ithaca College.” Ithaca.Edu, 2017, Accessed 1 November 2017

Johnson, Jerry A. “Occupational Therapy and the Patient with Pain.” Occupational Therapy in Health Care, vol.1, no.3, 2009, pp.7-15.

Kielhofner, Gary. Conceptual Foundations of Occupational Therapy Practice. Philadelphia, Pa: F.A. Davis Co, 2012.

Mulligan, Shelley. Occupational Therapy Evaluation for Children: A Pocket Guide. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2014.

Radomski, Mary V, and Catherine A. Trombly. Occupational Therapy for Physical Dysfunction: International Edition. Wolters Kluwer Health, 2014.

Söderback , Ingrid. International Handbook of Occupational Therapy Interventions. Springer New York, 2009.



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