Armand Patella|October 19, 2023

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Occupational therapy is a field of healthcare that is focused on helping people of all ages to live their lives to the fullest. Occupational therapists play a critical role in helping individuals overcome physical, emotional, and psychological challenges that limit their ability to perform daily tasks and activities. If you are curious about what occupational therapists do, then this article is for you.

Understanding Occupational Therapy

Definition of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that helps individuals develop, recover, or maintain the skills needed to perform daily activities and roles that are important to them. This includes everything from eating, dressing, and grooming, to working, playing, and engaging in social activities. Occupational therapists use a holistic approach to address physical, emotional, and social factors that affect a person's ability to engage in meaningful occupations.

Occupational therapy is a client-centered approach that focuses on the individual's goals and needs. The therapist works with the client to identify barriers to participation in daily activities and develops a plan to overcome these barriers. This may involve adapting the environment, modifying the activity, or developing new skills.

History and Evolution of Occupational Therapy

The roots of occupational therapy can be traced back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when reformers and philanthropists began to advocate for the creation of vocational and occupational training programs for people with mental illnesses and physical disabilities. These programs aimed to provide individuals with the skills and tools needed to engage in meaningful occupations and lead productive lives.

In the early 1900s, the profession of occupational therapy emerged as a distinct field of healthcare, and it has been evolving and expanding ever since. Occupational therapists began working in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, helping patients recover from injuries and illnesses and regain their ability to perform daily activities.

As the profession grew, occupational therapists began to work in a variety of settings, including schools, mental health clinics, and community-based programs. They also began to focus on prevention and wellness, helping individuals maintain their health and independence and promoting healthy lifestyles.

The Role of Occupational Therapists in Healthcare

Occupational therapists work with individuals across the lifespan who have a variety of conditions and challenges that affect their ability to perform daily tasks. They may work with people who have physical disabilities, developmental delays, neurological disorders, mental health conditions, or chronic diseases.

Occupational therapists collaborate with other healthcare professionals to design and implement treatment plans that address the unique needs and goals of each patient. They may work with physical therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, and other specialists to provide comprehensive care.

Occupational therapists also play a key role in promoting health and wellness. They may work with individuals to develop exercise programs, teach stress-management techniques, or provide education on healthy lifestyle choices.

Overall, occupational therapy is a vital healthcare profession that helps individuals achieve their goals, live independently, and engage in meaningful occupations. Whether working with children, adults, or seniors, occupational therapists provide essential services that improve quality of life and promote health and well-being.

The Occupational Therapy Process

Assessment and Evaluation

The occupational therapy process typically begins with an assessment and evaluation phase. During this phase, the occupational therapist conducts a thorough evaluation of the patient's physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities, as well as their social and environmental contexts. The therapist will review the patient's medical history, observe their daily activities, and conduct various assessments and tests to determine their strengths and limitations.

Goal Setting and Treatment Planning

Once the evaluation is complete, the occupational therapist and patient work together to develop goals and a treatment plan. The treatment plan will be focused on helping the patient achieve their goals and overcome any challenges they may be facing. The therapist will use evidence-based interventions and techniques to address the patient's unique needs and goals.

Intervention and Therapy Techniques

Occupational therapists use a wide variety of intervention and therapy techniques to help patients achieve their goals. These may include physical exercises, sensory integration techniques, cognitive interventions, adaptive equipment, and environmental modifications. The therapist will customize the treatment plan to fit the patient's specific needs and may make adjustments as needed to ensure that progress is being made.

Monitoring Progress and Reassessment

The final phase of the occupational therapy process is monitoring progress and reassessment. Throughout the course of treatment, the therapist will regularly evaluate the patient's progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed. The goal is to ensure that the patient is making meaningful progress towards their goals and that they are able to maintain their skills and abilities over time.

Areas of Practice


Occupational therapists who work with children help them develop the skills needed to perform daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and playing. They may work with children who have developmental delays, physical disabilities, or behavioral challenges. Occupational therapists use play-based interventions to help children learn and develop new skills in a fun and engaging way.


Occupational therapists who work with older adults help them maintain their independence and quality of life as they age. They may work with seniors who are experiencing physical or cognitive declines, or who have chronic diseases such as arthritis or dementia. Occupational therapists use adaptive equipment, environmental modifications, and other interventions to help seniors perform daily tasks and maintain their social connections.

Mental Health

Occupational therapists who work in mental health help individuals who are experiencing emotional or psychological challenges that affect their ability to function in daily life. They may work with people who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health disorders. Occupational therapists use a variety of interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques, to help individuals cope with their symptoms and improve their ability to engage in daily activities and relationships.

Physical Rehabilitation

Occupational therapists who work in physical rehabilitation help individuals recover from injuries, surgeries, or other medical conditions that affect their ability to perform daily activities. They may work with people who have suffered a stroke, spinal cord injury, or amputation, or who have other physical limitations. Occupational therapists use a variety of interventions, such as physical exercises, splinting, and adaptive equipment, to help individuals regain their skills and abilities.

Workplace and Ergonomics

Occupational therapists who work in workplace and ergonomic settings help individuals and organizations identify and address ergonomic risk factors that can cause injuries or limit productivity. They may work with employees who have repetitive stress injuries or musculoskeletal disorders, or with employers to develop injury prevention programs and ergonomic workstations. Occupational therapists use their knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, and human behavior to help individuals and organizations optimize their work environments.


Occupational therapy is a critical field of healthcare that helps individuals of all ages live their lives to the fullest. Occupational therapists work with patients to overcome physical, emotional, and psychological challenges that limit their ability to perform daily tasks and engage in meaningful activities. Through a holistic and evidence-based approach to care, occupational therapists help patients achieve their goals and improve their quality of life.

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