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What is an Occupational Therapist?

Physical Therapy equipment

An occupational therapist is similar to a physical therapist in that they both assist their patients to help them increase mobility, quality of life, and independence. Both types of therapy are recognized in the medical field and educate their patients to prevent and avoid injuries. But the main difference between these two therapists is that occupational therapist treats the entire person, whereas a physical therapist addresses a specific area of the body to improve functionality.

According to The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (https://www.aota.org/Conference-Events/OTMonth/what-is-OT.aspx),
“Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations).” They help a wide range of patients from geriatrics to pediatrics, to those recovering from a stroke, or a person who has dementia.

The ultimate goal for occupational therapists is to help their patients live full lives without injuring themselves. An occupational therapist also provides a holistic approach to their therapy, and in doing so, they treat the entire person. Not only do they want to reduce their patient’s pain and increase their mobility, but they also ensure that the home or work environment is suitable. The foundation for the holistic approach is that the interventions fit the patient.

Why would someone need an occupational therapist? Some people who need this kind of intervention include children who have developmental problems, as well as social issues. Other individuals who would benefit from this type of treatment are those who are recovering from an operation, like stroke, or who have emotional problems, like dementia patients.

Many times, the therapist has the sessions in their patient’s home or school. Once the occupational therapist reviews the environment, they will often provide necessary modifications to ensure the patient’s safety. Other changes would also include helping the patient learn how to maneuver their body without hurting themselves or causing irritation and pain. For example, if an occupational therapist has a patient who has dementia, the patient may need help remembering to dress in the morning. In this case, the therapist’s job is to devise a plan of action that will help their patient remember to get dressed. Patients may have a trigger that will help them remember. When patients remember to do something, they are adding independence, meaning, and self-care back into their lives.

Another example would be helping a patient who is a young child with ADHD. These children are often distracting other students and disruptive in the classroom. An occupational therapist will work with the patient’s family and help the child focus on the tasks at hand. One such activity that helps students focus on schoolwork is to identify how their “engine” is running. If it’s running hot, the therapist will give them an exercise to help them slow down, so they can concentrate and not distract other students. For more information about how occupational therapy can help children with ADHD, please see the Occupational Therapy for Children’s website. (http://occupationaltherapyforchildren.over-blog.com/article-adhd-80664822.html).

One of the best things about being an occupational therapist is that therapists are not tied down to an office like physical therapists are. Depending on where their patients are, they can initiate therapy sessions where it is most needed, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, a private residence, at a school, or even a park with a playground. There is a lot of versatility that comes with being an occupational therapist, which makes the job exciting and keeps the therapist thinking outside the box for creative ways to assist their patients.