January 17, 2012

Now, what is Occupational Therapy, really?

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi
Most people are familiar with the abbreviation of "OT", but what is occupational therapy really? I’ve heard people answer, “Well, it goes hand-in-hand with Physical Therapy” or “We work with children with Autism.” Most Occupational Therapists stumble upon words trying to explain their profession. Yes, we work with children on the spectrum. Yes, our work is characteristic to that of the scope of Physical Therapy. But what sets Occupational Therapy apart from Physical Therapy is that the core of occupational therapy as a profession is held together by the concept of occupation; Occupation, or any activity, which is meaningful, or necessary, to an individual to live a full, independent life. It is an Occupational Therapy mantra that occupation can facilitate the restoration of function. Henceforth, OTs use "functional" activities to achieve the best patient outcome. As per the American Occupational Therapy Association, “Occupational Therapy allows patients to carry out the job of living” (www.aota.org, 2006). It addresses the physical, cognitive, psychosocial, sensory, and other aspects of performance in a variety of contexts to support engagement in everyday life activities that affect health, well-being, and quality of life” (AOTA, 2004a). In short, OTs help the patient optimize their independence and ability to accomplish daily activities after an injury has occurred by focusing on their life skills and functional abilities.
This still may not be so concise when trying to explain what OTs really do. Alas, this blog. As a second year occupational therapy student, I have encountered many paraprofessionals who are not familiar with occupational therapy philosophy or intervention. Occupational therapy has been historically disempowered due to ambiguity of the public’s understanding of our services and our value. Through this blog, I aim to advocate for the profession by bringing to light the expansive scope of Occupational Therapy and to promote widespread understanding of it’s value to society’s health and wellness.
*For more info please read,  “What is Occupational Therapy?” According to the American Occupational Therapy Association. http://www.aota.org/Consumers.aspx


  1. Well said, it is interesting that our profession is so difficult to define. Yet, if you think about other professions, e.g., medical doctors, nurses, etc., they don't really need one. That is, people do not require a Webster's dictionary entry for understanding what they do. It is understood outside of linguistic means. OT's are stuck in between finding a verbal, concise definition to prove our worth and having no alternative means of defining OT, such as TV shows, literature and the arts.
    Perhaps we are exacerbating our dilemma by trying so hard to define it with words, but how else can we do it without a two sentence credo?