The American Occupational Therapy Association defines occupational therapy as"the therapeutic use of self-care, work/productive activities, and play/leisure activities to increase independent function, enhance development, and prevent disability." As such, occupational therapy includes the adaptation of tasks and the environment to maximize independence and quality of life.
The term occupation refers not to employment per se, but to activities that are meaningful to the individual within the environments in which he or she lives and functions.
Occupational therapy involves assisting people who for one reason or anothercannot function independently; increasing independence by assisting with activities of daily living; enhancing an individual's ability to work, play, andenjoy leisure; and helping others to help themselves. Occupational therapy isnot, however, helping people find jobs (although occupational therapists mayassist people in returning to work after a mishap, illness, or injury); or physical therapy (although occupational therapy students may attend many of the same classes as physical therapists).
Occupational therapists use daily activities to help people achieve independence. In the cases of individuals with physical disabilities, the occupationaltherapist first focuses on helping the individual perform essential daily activities, which may include dressing, grooming, bathing, and eating. After these skills have been mastered, the occupational therapist works on impartingthe skills needed to meet daily responsibilities, such as caring for a home and family, going to school, or seeking and holding a job.
In the case of a client with a mental illness, the goal is also to help the individual function independently. In treating mental or emotional problems, the occupational therapist may work with the patient to help him or her managetime more effectively, work productively with others, and enjoy leisure time.
Occupational therapists work in public schools, rehabilitation hospitals, mental health centers, nursing homes, physician's offices, and home health agencies. They are primarily, however, employed in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and schools.
Occupational therapists may work with victims of neurodegenerative disease such as multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, and Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis); carpal tunnel syndrome; stroke; traumaticbrain injury; hip fracture/replacement; spinal cord injury; low back pain; poor vision; schizophrenia; Alzheimer's disease; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders; cerebral palsy; chronic pain; substance use disorders; and tendon injuries. They also work with young children with delayed development.
In addition, the occupational therapist may help with the growth and development of premature babies; work to establish learning environments for physically challenged school children; modify home environments for victims of stroke; analyze job requirements for an injured worker; or conduct research on theeffectiveness of specific treatments.
In 1997, annual salaries for occupational therapists working full-time averaged $47,095, ranging from a low of $12,000 to a high of $130,000. To become anoccupational therapist, a student must complete an education program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. The student may choose either to pursue a bachelor's degree, a post baccalaureate certificate, or a professional master's degree. All academic programs in occupational therapy include a period of supervised clinical experience.