What in the world is Occupational Therapy?

January 30, 2019

Written by Carly Treloar


My name is Carly, and I will be walking alongside you today during your Occupational Therapy session

“Whats Occupational Therapy?” you ask.

“Let me paint a picture here for you while I explain”

Occupational Therapy is life’s blank canvas with a wash of water colours painting your pathway towards a meaningful life, an Occupational Therapist holds the paintbrush, and is ready to explore your imagination with you; for you are the one who holds the key to creating your path, a beautiful piece of life’s artwork.

I am blessed to be part of a unique health profession that embraces individuality, the importance of human connection and occupational engagement through identifying the meaning held within any given activity.

This therapeutic, holistic approach to healthcare, first emerged just over a century ago in 1917 in the United States of America with it’s official title of ‘Occupational Therapy’  being established and recognised in 1920.

During these times, Occupational Therapists (Better known as OT’s) believed the properties of ‘Human Occupation’ could be assisted in times of challenge through remediation, playing a vital role within the treatment of AIDs, polio and tuberculosis. OT’s expanded into working with disabled children to enhance their abilities and increase occupational engagement, mainly in schools, but this is not where it ends.

Today, the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) describes our profession as –

 “A client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation”.

“Occupational Therapists have a broad education base in Medical, Social Behavioural, Psychological, Psychosocial and Occupational Sciences that equip them with the attitudes, skills and knowledge to work collaboratively with people, individually or within group communities”.

“Occupational Therapists can work with all people, including those who have impairment of body structure or function owing to a health condition, or are restricted in their participation or who are socially excluded owing their membership of social or cultural minority groups”

Occupational Therapists help people with”Activities of Daily Living” which can be achieved in many ways.

When there is a reduction or impairment in skills or function, people can experience grief and loss in the joy of being alive with apprehension of the future ahead.

Photo by Debbie Pan on Unsplash

An Occupational Therapist works with people in the community and in the family home, building relationships and helping people so they can reach their fullest potential.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“The core elements of Occupational Therapy practice have remained the same”.

Occupational Therapists possess the ability to understand and demonstrate these 5 essential elements of Occupational Therapy Practice like the….

Presence of an Occupational Challenge

Possibility of solutions that enable occupation

Client-specific goals/challenges/solutions and client-centered enablement

Multidisciplinary knowledge base

A reasoning process that can deal with complexity

(Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, 2007)

“Occupational Therapy as a profession”

Occupational Therapy is a profession that identifies the needs a person has, matches this with their goals and develops therapeutic programs because it meets the need of the individual helping them achieve their goals. People want to be able to perform everyday tasks that are meaningful to them because  Eating, showering, reading, writing, socialising, running, shopping, working or going to school is an important part of life!

These things are what makes us “Human Doings” things that we need to do, want to do or are expected to do.

 “What does an Occupational Therapist do exactly?”

In the modern day, we work in a large variety of roles and within both Physical and Mental Health care.

Occupational Therapy Australia clearly defines this well with the following https://www.otaus.com.au/about/what-do-occupational-therapists-do

We Work With Children  & Families

Helping children achieve developmental milestones ie: fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, social skills

Educating & Involving parents, carers & others to facilitate the normal development and learning of children

Providing children and families with

Rehabilitation and Aged care – 

Helping clients regain/enhance their daily lives after specific events ie: Hip/knee replacement, Stroke

Assessing and modifying clients homes & community environments to improve safety and independence

Prescribing & educating clients & carers in the use of adaptive equipment assist function

Acute Care – 

Specialist interventions in various health conditions including surgery, burns, HIV & acute mental health

Assessing clients cognition, function and psychosocial needs

Monitoring of clients function/progress prescribing adaptive equipment & ensure safety upon discharge from hospital

Injury Management – 

Using specialised assessments to determine functional requirements of various jobs, & clients capacity to return to work

Designing and coordinating graded return to work programs

Educating clients in safe work practices

Modifying work environments to suit needs of individuals so as to prevent/minimise injuries

Mental Health – 

Designing coping strategies for clients in overcoming their mental health issues

Designing Individual/group programs & activities to enhance clients independence in everyday activities

Improving clients confidence & self-esteem in social situations

Furthermore, I would like to add an area of special focus that Occupational Therapists bring a unique perspective and approach:

“Soft Tissue Dysfunction”

In this role OT’s  

Work with people to enable them to overcome limitations they may experience in their daily occupations due to pain & muscular imbalances

Focus on the interrelationship between occupation & soft tissue function (Also referred to as neuromuscular integration)

Often working with clients that sit higher on the function/dysfunction spectrum (Athletes, Dancers, Sports enthusiasts)

Soft tissue OTs are occupationally focused at all times, providing interventions and specific treatment modalities such as joint mobilisations, massage, myofascial release, trigger point and muscle energy based techniques.

Please Don’t get the Soft Tissue OT’s confused with other professions – We don’t Manipulate or Adjust joints (This is only performed by health professionals that have specialised training in this area ie: Chiropractors, Osteopaths and select Physiotherapists)

Where will you find an Occupational Therapist?


Primary & Community Care

Private Healthcare

Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services

Aged Care Facilities

Stroke Rehabilitation

Old age Psychiatry

Paediatric Healthcare & Rehabilitation


Musculoskeletal Disorders

Housing Adaptations & Ergonomics

Vocation Rehabilitation

Palliative Care & Oncology

Adult Mental Health Services

Schools & Universities

Alcohol & Addiction services

Hand Therapy


Early Intervention Services


Pain Management

Healthcare Management & Project Management

Occupational Therapists Have Skills!

OT’s are a skilled bunch of Allied Health Professionals paving the way for people to obtain functional independence.

Our focus is to build upon a persons strengths and abilities, whilst increase meaningful participation in life.

We provide people with compassion, empathy, and kindness when faced with adversity, and build upon their sense of agency towards obtaining mental, physical health and well-being.

In saying this, I am proud to be your OT

Warm Wishes



Occupational Therapy Australia, (2019) What do Occupational Therapists Do? Viewed 12/01/2019 https://www.otaus.com.au/about/what-do-occupational-therapists-do

World Federation of Occupational Therapists, (2019) Definition of Occupational Therapy, Viewed 12/01/2019,  http://www.wfot.org/AboutUs/AboutOccupationalTherapy/DefinitionofOccupationalTherapy.a


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