What is Occupational Therapy?
Our lives are comprised of hundreds of activities that occupy our waking hours. These "occupations" have a profound impact on how we feel physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. They can provide a sense of satisfaction and well-being, or they can create stress, imbalance, and dissatisfaction. The study of the nature, function, and meaning of human activities is the main focus of Occupational Science. The application of activities to promote health and well-being is the primary pursuit of Occupational Therapy.
Occupational Therapy is a health care profession aimed at improving performance, preventing illness and disability, and promoting adaptation to life changes. In this interdisciplinary field, occupational therapists help people, including those with disabilities, live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
Occupational therapists assess, utilize, and adapt everyday activities to improve function, enhance performance, promote health, prevent illness, and increase independence in those persons to whom they provide services. They work collaboratively with their clients to identify areas of need and to develop creative solutions to address these areas while respecting clients' background and culture and valuing their quality of life.
As an occupational therapist, you might:
- Help senior citizens re-engage in activities they love but now refrain from doing because of physical limitations or fear of injury.
- Coach corporate executives on the use of work and leisure to reduce stress and maximize health or help them create office spaces based on ergonomic principles.
- Work in private practice with children with developmental delays to help them experience the joy of success in play, self-care, and social occupations.
- Create community programs and cultural interventions for immigrants, school children, or people with emotional or mental disabilities.
- Teach adults with spinal cord injuries how to use assistive technology that will enable them to live productive and meaningful lives.
- Assist teachers in redesigning classroom environments so children with attention deficit disorders are less easily distracted.
- Develop multifaceted weight loss programs that emphasize the interplay of healthy eating, meaningful activity, stress reduction, and physical exercise.
- Provide programs in prisons and for at-risk youth and young adults that address community building and skill acquisition as alternatives to gang membership.
- Help an adult suffering from depression to reclaim his life by recommending a series of graduated activities through which he can experience success.
- Devise a substitute method for holding a fork to enable a person who has lost grip strength to feed himself independently.
Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?
Occupational therapists work in a range of settings including: hospitals, outpatient centers, skilled nursing facilities, community centers, workplaces, schools, colleges and universities, and in people's homes. They provide services in all of the arenas in which people engage in their everyday activities.
What Are the Career Prospects for Occupational Therapists?
Despite health care policy changes affecting all health professions, new and experienced occupational therapists continue to find satisfying and well-paying jobs. Demographic changes (e.g., aging population in U.S.) and legislation (e.g., IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have contributed to expanded opportunities for the occupational therapy profession, especially in the community. Opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators abound in the profession. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment opportunities for occupational therapists will increase through the year 2012.
Who Do Occupational Therapists Serve?
Occupational therapists provide services to people from all walks of life, from infants in a neo-natal intensive care unit, to children in an elementary school, to students in a community college, to adults in a rehabilitation center, to elders living in a retirement community.
Although historically occupational therapists worked with people who had experienced catastrophic illness or lived with a disability, now occupational therapists are increasingly working with well populations.