What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

What Do Occupational Therapy Practitioners Do?


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).  Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent - or live better with -injury, illness, or disability.  

Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.  Occupational therapy services typically include:  

  • an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person's goals,
  • customized intervention to improve the person's ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
  • an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/make changes to the intervention plan.

Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team.  It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science (AOTA 2019).

Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) help individuals who have experienced illnesses, injuries or other disabling conditions learn how to:

  • Be independent again
  • Dress and bathe independently
  • Adapt their homes to be wheelchair accessible
  • Manage stress
  • Use their injured hands to work on a computer
  • Plan a meal
  • Balance a checkbook
  • Use public transportation

Occupational therapy professionals use advanced rehabilitation techniques, client education, and exercises to assist patients with these activities. Some advanced techniques include:

  • Neurotherapeutic treatments
  • Manual therapy
  • Ergonomic assessment
  • Home modifications to prevent falls
  • Wheelchair training
  • Fabrication of orthoses 
  • Wellness programs to prevent injuries

Occupational therapy professionals work with clients with illnesses such as:

  • Head injuries
  • Strokes
  • Arthritis
  • Hand injuries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental health disorders

An occupational therapy practitioner may help a girl with cerebral palsy learn to use her hands to hold a crayon. In another setting, an OT practitioner may help a woman with arthritic hands adapt her kitchen so that she is able to cook for her family. An OT practitioner can also teach a worker how to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Occupational therapy practitioners work in a variety of treatment settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, home health agencies and nursing homes. They work with other health care providers such as physical therapists, speech language pathologists, physicians, case workers and nurses.

Occupational therapy practitioners are an important part of the health care team since they help patients regain their abilities to do daily activities after life-changing injuries or illnesses.

Occupational therapy practitioners reduce health care costs by helping patients become more independent so they are not as likely to be confined to a hospital or health care facility.

The provision of occupational therapy is client centered with the concept of occupation as a basis for intervention.  The OT profession increasingly seeks to implement evidence based techniques into each treatment.  

Everything the occupational therapy practitioner does, is or is concerned about is directed at supporting the client's engagement in meaningful activities and occupations that ultimately affect the health, well being, and life satisfaction of the individual.