What is Occupational Therapy?
This is a question often asked by people who don’t actually know what it is. Many people think its physical therapy or something similar, however that’s not entirely true. While it’s true that the goals of physical therapy and occupational therapy are similar, they both want to help the individual become fully functioning again; they use different methods to achieve this goal.
Usually when you say the word ‘occupational therapist’ to most people they think of either a physical therapist or someone who helped someone get a job. While both are sort of true both are sort of inaccurate as well. That’s because ‘occupation’ is not always about finding a job. Lots of times things that keep us ‘occupied’ are just the everyday routines of daily life. While preparing for work again can be a part of it, other daily tasks like coping strategies, productive leisure time, fine motor skills, postural development and how we take care of ourselves are a large part of it too.
It’s difficult to define what an occupational therapist is. That’s because their role is actually defined by the setting they are in. Occupational therapists are concerned with making a person able to function in his world. For example, in pediatrics the goal is to fine-tune motor skills and help children reach developmental milestones.
In the case of a hospital or nursing home setting, an occupational therapist helps a patient overcome severe situations like strokes or heart attacks. This is different than a physical purpose was just concerned with making the large groups of muscles stronger. To an occupational therapist if the muscles are strong but the person still cannot tie his own shoes, then this is not successful quite yet. More work has to be done. An occupational therapist works with this patient until this person is able to tie their shoes. In other words, occupational therapist works on the fine motor skill and developmental milestones needed to live everyday instead of focusing on major muscle groups.
Sometimes an occupational therapist helps people with a mental condition rather than a physical one. This can be a little trickier but the goal is still the same; to help a person become a fully functioning human being again so they can participate in their own life. Some of the things that an occupational therapist can teach a patient with a mental condition include handling their symptoms, making healthy choices, or improving their assertiveness or relaxation skills. In some cases they can even teach them how to use their leisure time more productively.
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants go through rigorous training and most of it in the field to learn how to do what they do. Someone with physical therapy degree cannot be an occupational therapist unless they also complete occupational therapy training and pass the test. As was said earlier, occupational therapists can be found in many settings including schools, camps, hospitals, institutions, nursing homes, private practice and more. It’s the setting that determines what it is they actually do. But whatever forms an occupational therapist takes, whatever setting they’re in and method they use, you can be assured that an occupational therapists chief job is to make sure that you are able to function well in your own environment. Some occupational therapy schools offer curriculums tailored to certain practice areas, so research the course offerings to guarantee that you can specialize in your preferred area.
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