An in-depth look
Occupational therapists work with people who have physical, mental and/or social problems, either from birth or as a result of accident, illness or ageing. Their aim is to assist people to achieve their potential in developing life skills that are taken for granted until one loses the physical or mental ability to perform them. Tasks such as getting dressed, learning to feed oneself, having a shower, going to work, socialising or undertaking a favourite hobby – are in fact complex tasks that the occupational therapist must analyse and provide strategies for achieving, based on the context (situation surrounding) of the person's lives and the ultimate goal he or she wants to achieve.
The Occupational Therapist’s work could therefore include:
- Giving advice on how the home or workplace environment can be changed to provide access and reduce incidence of stress related injuries (e.g. ensuring wheelchair ramps are installed and correct positioning of work tools)
- Helping people to learn new ways of doing things (e.g. teaching someone with reduced stamina how to conserve energy when performing daily activities)
- Adapting materials or equipment (e.g. adjusting a knife for a person with rheumatoid arthritis after they have lost hand dexterity)
- Consulting in schools to help children with particular brain dysfunctions overcome difficulties such as handwriting, and acquire behavioural and developmental skills that are foundations for learning.
- Educating caregivers on safety strategies for themselves (e.g. use of proper body mechanics) or coping strategies as they adjust to a new role.
- Helping someone suffering from depression to return to the workplace by addressing the source of the depression, utilizing other professional techniques such as psychotherapy and art therapy, and finding practical ways of dealing with issues related to daily living.
- Increasing range of motion, strength, activity tolerance, balance, coordination and dexterity in people who have lost abilities due to disease or injury.
In addition, to teaching new skills, the occupational therapist’s role is to assist clients in determining how they can restore or develop new occupational roles that will be of value within the family and the community in which they live or work. OT’s seek to bring balance into the situations surrounding people’s lives e.g. through coaching. This is sometimes a pre-emptive action to avoid loss of function.