"Occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of self-care, work, and play activities to increase
independent function, enhance development, and prevent disability; may include adaptation of task
or environment to achieve maximum independence and to enhance quality of life."
That's great, but what the heck does it mean?
Glad you asked. OTs treat a person's functionality. Let me put this
another way. Maybe a person comes into a hospital because he has weakness in
his arm. Maybe he's just had a stroke or been in some kind of accident.
His doctor would look at his illness and treat that. A physical
therapist may test his muscle strength and treat that. A nurse may
perform certain tasks for
him while he is unable to do them for himself. An occupational therapist
would make an assessment of this person's ability to do the things he needs
to do every day, like dress, brush his
teeth, get up and out to work, etc. and treat a person in those areas.
While the PT may ask the question, 'how strong is this man's grip
today?' an OT would ask the question 'is this man's grip strong enough
to allow him to get a glass of water to his mouth without dropping it?'
difference? The nurse may help this man to get from his wheelchair to
the toilet but an OT may teach him how to get from his wheelchair to the
toilet by himself or with the aid of some assistive device.
Wait just a minute. What about people in a psych hospital?
Aren't they having trouble functioning too?
Yep! That's why we have OTs working in psychosocial settings too. It's
also why most all OTs in the U.S. have a psych affiliation as part of their
education. Psych is a little different from physical disability. Let's
say that you have someone who is very paranoid and thinks that everyone
is out to hurt him. Naturally he's going to have trouble interacting
with people. (makes sense
right?) Here's where it gets tricky. Unlike a psychologist an OT doesn't
do talk psychotherapy. The OT doesn't care that their patient wet the bed
until the age of 25 unless it has some impact on their level of
function. So what do we do? We may place this person into a craft group
where they would have to interact with other people in order to prepare this person with
the same skills he may need to get along in the outside world. For example, a
therapist may intentionally
make only one hammer available so that this patient must ask someone
else for it if he wants to complete his project. This gets them used to
interacting with people even if those feelings of anxiety are still
present. This is just one example but it's a fairly common one.
OT's treat function in self care, work, play and leisure.
That's what we do!
And we're proud to do it.