When you think of “occupation,” you probably think about paid employment, but occupational therapists (OTs) mean something quite different. “Occupation” in therapeutic terms is any meaningful activity. Occupational therapists help people succeed at daily life.
Occupation Begins at Birth
Occupational therapists help people of all ages, including the tiniest babies in neonatal and infant intensive care units. Infant occupational therapists work with babies and parents or caregivers to facilitate bonding. They also help babies learn to enjoy basic caregiving, such as bathing, changing, and feeding; help them learn to play and explore their environments; and provide physical strength-building and coordination activities.
Educational Support Professionals
About 1 out of 3 OTs works in a school, hospital, or other institution helping children. Occupational therapists help their clients cope with physical, sensory, developmental, motor, cognitive, attention, and behavioral challenges, so they can learn to perform daily living activities as independently as possible. Daily living activities include personal care and hygiene, mobility, school and work skills, and social interaction. Occupational therapy also helps children build their self-esteem by helping them engage with their physical and social environments in healthy, developmentally appropriate ways.
Occupational therapists help adults with disabilities or injuries develop or regain daily living skills. One third of OTs help members of the elder population maintain their independence and their physical, cognitive, and social abilities.
Occupational vs. Physical Therapy
Occupational and physical therapy share some features and may be provided at the same time to address the same challenges, but they are two different things. Physical therapy focuses on building or regaining overall physical strength and endurance and on overcoming physical pain and injury. Occupational therapy deals with fine motor skills and specific abilities. For example, you might use physical therapy to strengthen your arm after an injury, but you’d use occupational therapy to re-learn how to pick up a brush and brush your hair. Occupational therapy also helps the brain and body cooperate by developing skills like visual processing, sensory integration, and cognitive problem solving.
Occupational therapists are licensed health care professionals. Occupational therapists must have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Occupational therapy assistants must have an associate’s degree in occupational therapy. Assistants can perform OT but are not qualified to carry out evaluations. In some states, pediatric OTs must also be certified in infant massage instruction.
The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
“A Consumer’s Guide to Occupational Therapy,” The Fund to Promote Awareness of Occupational Therapy
“Occupational Therapy,” KidsHealth
“Occupational Therapists,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
“Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT),” The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia