What is Occupational Therapy?

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By Maham Hasnain OT/S (Occupational Therapy Student)

History of Occupational Therapy  

The field of occupational therapy originates from ideas of using occupations as a means to treat health conditions and mental health.

In the 1800s, there was a shift in the care for individuals with mental illness as the idea of humane treatment, social justice and morality became more prevalent, therefore leading to the development of therapeutic sessions focusing on engagement of productive activities. The Arts and Crafts movement of 1880 is one of the major events that led to the birth of the field, as this movement encouraged the use of arts to treat mental illness.

During WWI, occupational therapy was recognized as they treated wounded soldiers who were returning from war and needed rehabilitation to resume civilian work.

It was not until March 1917 that occupational therapy was established by the founders of the National Society of Promotion of Occupational Therapy, now known as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which established standards, accreditation for programs and improved the quality of care.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists treat a wide variety of conditions by providing evidence-based and client-centered care to their clients. What differentiates them from other healthcare practitioners is the application of a holistic approach to treat clients, which focuses on the individual as an occupational being, and encompasses the physical, cognitive and mental factors that shape each individual. The goals for occupational therapy is to increase independence, engagement in occupations, health, wellness and quality of life for an individual by examining the person, their environment, their goals and what they find value in. This can include increasing function and strength, working on skills that need to be improved, modifying the client’s environment, recommending adaptive equipment and even educating the patient on their condition.

Occupational therapists work on range of motion, joint movement, fine motor control, grasp and pinch strength, sensory, eye-hand coordination, proprioception, mental health, functional ability and much more.

Today, an occupational therapist can be found working with all age groups, from premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit to senior citizens living in an assisted living facility. Services are provided in many different settings including hospitals, out-patient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, schools, jails and at the client’s home.

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that occupational therapy has an expected growth of 18 percent from 2018 -2028, which is above average for the growth of jobs within a field. CNBC states that it was the 13th best job to have in 2019, which took into consideration the salary, stress level, unemployment rate, future job prospects and work-life balance.

Occupations as meaningful activities

Occupations are any activity that is meaningful and purposeful to the person. In everyday life, people are constantly engaging in occupations which include driving, buying groceries, participating in class, searching for work, cooking, dressing, and so on. A person’s life experiences, mindset, spirituality, culture and growth affect their identity and engagement in occupations as it shapes what they find important. Participation across the lifespan is important as it positively influences a person’s ability to increase their well-being and quality of life.

From an Occupational Therapist’s Point of View

Sakina Rahman is a 22-year-old at Wayne State University pursuing her master’s degree in occupational therapy. “My dream to pursue occupational therapy initiated with the intention of wanting to make a positive impact in the world. I discovered that an occupational therapist is not simply an ordinary healthcare professional, but an empowering individual who nurtures, empathizes and improves the quality of life. I am eager to promote health, happiness and assist others to become as functional as they can be!”

Jessica Harper is a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) of five years who has experience in acute care and home healthcare. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Findlay. “Being a COTA has been so meaningful to me because it’s all about function. Occupational therapy practitioners truly assist people of all ages and conditions to engage in their life to the fullest potential. Engagement results in improved quality of life, reduced hospitalizations/illness, and improved management of chronic conditions. Working with the client to increase engagement and seeing their progress assures OT has a positive impact in the healthcare field.”

LaDonna Weir has been an occupational therapist since 2007 and a certified hand therapist since 2013. Before that, she was a certified occupational therapy assistant for 12 years.

“I got my initial training in the Unites States Air Force, where I proudly served for 8 years. Once I got into practice, I realized what it was we do. I decided it was divine intervention and I was right where I need to be. What I like most about this field is the independence we give clients. We have the power to mold and shape a person’s life after they are faced with a diagnosis and have an impact on somebody. I like to use the analogy that physical therapy gets you where you need to go, but occupational therapy helps you do what you need to do once you are there. We think clinically and see everybody from a holistic view.”

Photo Captions:

Photo titled Donning Shirt: Occupational therapists work with patients on daily living activities like getting dressed to make them as functionally independent as possible.

Photo titled Reaching into cabinet:

A man reaches into his cabinet to grab a plate to set up dinner. Occupation therapists assist individuals to move and work around their houses safely and effectively, so they can live independently.

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