Occupational therapy (OT)

What is occupational therapy?

An occupation is any task you want to accomplish: getting out of bed, washing yourself, cooking, going out to see friends, or working.

For a range of reasons, such as illness, injury, or disability, you might find it difficult to carry out some of these tasks.

An occupational therapist is a healthcare professional who can help you adapt to make a task easier, and carry on doing what is important to you.

Occupational therapist working with child to handle cutlery

Who can occupational therapy help?

Occupational therapists work with a range of people, from children to older adults. Depending on their specialisation, an occupational therapist can support someone with:

  • sight impairment
  • hearing difficulties
  • brain injury or stroke
  • arthritis
  • spinal cord injury
  • diabetes
  • cerebral palsy
  • mental health problems
  • severe injuries
  • autism

What does occupational therapy involve?

The first appointment with an occupational therapist will generally involve an assessment of your situation. This includes a history of any condition you have, and in particular, any differences between what you could do in the past and what you can do now.

Goal-setting is an important part of occupational therapy. The occupational therapist will work with you to determine what activities are most important to you, and set clear goals for improving your ability to carry them out.

What often differentiates occupational therapy from physiotherapy is that while a physiotherapist is focussed on improving function and physical movement, an occupational therapist asks if there is another way of carrying out a given task. Occupational therapy is therefore much more oriented towards adaptation.

An occupational therapist might offer advice on:

  • alternative movements to get in and out of the bath
  • alternative ways to get dressed
  • how to break down a task, e.g. cooking, into small parts to make it easier
  • assistive equipment to help you walk
  • how to adapt your home to make things safer and easier

Alternatives to occupational therapy

If you are going through a period recovery following an injury or surgery, a physiotherapist can help you restore movement and function, as well as advice on avoiding future injuries.

In some cases, an occupational therapist will recommend equipment which can be provided for free by the local council. In this situation, you may need to have a separate needs assessment with an occupational therapist from the council, if your original appointment was with a private occupational therapist.

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