Occupational Therapy: Understanding the Specialty

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There’s a chance you’ve heard of physical therapy before. The common practice is primarily focused on movement, helping patients regain or improve the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Perhaps you are recovering from a surgery and need to learn how to regain movement in your arm. Maybe you are an athlete learning leg exercises to prevent future injuries. Physical therapy can be helpful in those instances. But do you know what occupational therapy is? Maybe not.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is often confused with physical therapy. Although the two specialties are similar, they do differ in certain ways. While physical therapy attempts to improve mobile impairments through exercises, massages, and more, occupational therapy treats the whole person.

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people across a lifespan improve their ability to do everyday activities. Anything from tying your shoes to grasping a pencil. Note: Daily activities = Occupations. The point is to help people become more independent in their lives either by educating them on how to prevent injury, or teaching them to live with an injury, illness, or disability/impairment.

Occupational therapy is unique for its holistic approach. It usually includes customized goals created by an OT (that’s short for occupational therapist) and a patient. The patient is involved with every step of the treatment planning process and the OT tracks progress towards those goals. The therapy is also about adapting the environment or task to fit the patient, which is what makes it so useful.

How is it Used?

Occupational therapy can follow someone throughout their life, from early stages of child development all the way to old age. It can help people with injuries that left them impaired and people who have life-long illnesses or disabilities such as autism, arthritis, or depression.

Occupational Therapy for Children

Children can have a variety of problems that the therapy treats including attention, learning, fine and gross motor, self-care, coordination, and sensory-processing issues. It can also help treat children who are missing developmental milestones. Again, the goal is to help them become more independent in their everyday activities. For example, an OT might spend time practicing handwriting with a child that has fine motor skills issues. For a child with a sensory-processing issue, an OT might work on helping them respond to sensations in a more comfortable way. They also may work with a child who is having trouble completing self-care tasks such as dressing themselves or brushing their teeth.

Occupational Therapy for Adults

An OT can assist adults in living their full lives even with a disability, injury, or impairment. Services include achieving goals and staying healthy and productive. They also encourage maintaining or rebuilding independence and participating in everyday activities again.

An OT may work with an adult who has experienced a stroke to help them learn how to dress themselves independently again. Another adult with a mental illness may learn how to participate in their community and be productive at work. Someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury may learn new organizational skills with an OT. An older patient may benefit from working with an OT as they experience physical and cognitive changes that come with age.

The common theme among all of these patients? Their goals and treatment plans are individualized and custom to them. With the help of occupational therapy, a wide range of people of all ages learn to live fuller lives.


  1. https://www.aota.org/Conference-Events/OTMonth/what-is-OT.aspx
  2. https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Manage/Presentation-Resources/Brochure/What-Is-OT-brochure.pdf
  3. https://www.apta.org/aboutpts/
  4. https://otaonline.stkate.edu/blog/fields-occupational-therapy-and-physical-therapy-whats-difference/
  5. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/therapies/occupational-therapy-what-you-need-to-know

Kristen Luft is a digital marketer working on health-centered blog posts for Wellistic. When she's not writing, you can find her reading, snuggling her greyhound or chihuahua, or following the latest trends on Instagram.

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