What we do for a living becomes a big part of our identities. Whether you work part-time, full-time or all-the-time as a stay-at-home-mom, you know that a huge amount of your energy is dedicated to your “occupation”. My occupation happens to be Occupational Therapy. Most of the time, in conversation, I get blank stares when I tell people that I’m an Occupational Therapist. So what is Occupational Therapy? I may be a little biased, but I believe that Occupational Therapy is an extremely important and valuable profession!
In a nutshell, Occupational Therapists help people to become as independent, safe and successful in their own “occupations” as possible. Now, the way I use the term “occupation” may not always be defined in the traditional sense. A child’s “occupation” is play and school activities, an older adult’s “occupation” may be more focused on self-care and mobility, a mom’s “occupation” may be caring for herself and her family, etc.
Occupational Therapists work in a variety of settings – mainstream schools, special ed schools, in a patient’s home, in a hospital, in a rehab facility, in a nursing home, as a consultant, in an assisted-living facility, in an outpatient setting, etc. We work with all disabilities and diagnoses from birth to old age.
But, how exactly does an Occupational Therapist help someone in need? It all boils down to one goal – facilitating a person’s optimal independence and functioning so that he/she may live as fulfilling a life as possible. Take the example of an 80 year old woman, who lives by herself, who is having more and more difficulty functioning and performing her daily activities. An Occupational Therapist may work with this woman in her own home and, after assessing what her needs are, engage her in strengthening activities, show her adaptive devices to make some of her daily tasks easier and safer, educate her on ways to conserve her energy so she is able to get through her day and do everything she needs to do, recommend ways to modify her home for optimal safety (i.e. have grab bars installed in her shower), etc.
Another example would be when an Occupational Therapist works with a student who may have difficulties with handwriting (proper grasp of pencil, staying within margins), cutting, sitting still in the classroom, participating in school activities. The Occupational Therapist may adapt the student’s pencil to promote an optimal grip/grasp, or make recommendations to the teacher and parents regarding activities the student could do at home for hand strengthening and increase fine motor ability, or recommend modifications in the classroom to help a student with sensory-processing issues to be able to thrive in the classroom setting.
These are just two examples of how Occupational Therapy is able to help people. Not only is the service of Occupational Therapy so valuable, but the profession of Occupational Therapy is so rewarding and fulfilling. It is one of the most flexible and varied jobs that I know of. In my case, when I started my career 16 years ago, I worked full-time in a nursing home. I then worked full-time in a hospital, and when I became pregnant with my first son I was able to go down to part-time. When I had my son I then became an “as-needed” therapist because I wanted to spend more time home with him. I eventually went back to part-time and worked in home health, and I am currently working part-time in a school setting as well as doing consulting in a medically fragile day program for developmentally delayed adults. So, from the standpoint of a career, Occupational Therapy is ideal.
This post is SO general on what Occupational Therapy is, what the service can offer, and the perks of being an OT. I welcome any questions or comments about Occupational Therapy. If you have ANY questions regarding how OT may help – please don’t hesitate to ask me. I’ve always been of the belief that if I don’t know the answer or if I can’t help you, then I will lead you to someone who can. I will periodically write posts on specific diagnoses or situations, so if you have any requests then throw ’em out there 🙂 You can also go to the website for the American Occupational Therapy Association for more information.