Occupational Therapist (OT)

Work Activities/Work Locations

  • Occupational Therapists use therapeutic activities and programs to help individuals with disabling conditions to regain their abilities in the home and work environment. They assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs that allow an individual to learn the necessary skills to live an independent and productive lifestyle.
  • They work with individuals suffering from physical, emotional, psychological or a developmental disabling condition.
  • OTs not only help clients improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, but also compensate for permanent loss of function.
  • OTs assist clients in performing activities of all types, ranging from using a computer, to caring for daily needs such as dressing, cooking, and eating.
  • Physical exercises may be used to increase strength and dexterity, while paper and pencil exercises may be chosen to improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns.
  • A client with short-term memory loss, for instance, might be encouraged to make lists to aid recall. A person with coordination problems might be assigned exercises to improve hand-eye coordination.
  • OTs also use computer programs to help clients improve decision making, abstract reasoning, problem solving, and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing, and coordination--all of which are important for independent living.
  • For those with permanent functional disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, OTs instruct in the use of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing.
  • OTs develop computer-aided adaptive equipment and teach clients with severe limitations how to use it. This equipment enables clients to communicate better and to control other aspects of their environment.
  • Some OT's treat individuals whose ability to function in a work environment has been impaired. These practitioners arrange employment, evaluate the work environment, plan work activities, and assess the client’s progress.
  • Therapists also may collaborate with the client and the employer to modify the work environment so that the work can be successfully completed.
  • Occupational therapy is also beneficial to the elderly population; because they help senior citizens lead more productive, active and independent lives through a variety of methods, including the use of adaptive equipment.
  • Most occupational therapists work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, adult day care programs and home health agencies. A small number of occupational therapists are in private practice.
  • OTs may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group, or with particular disabilities. In schools, for example, they evaluate children's abilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and in general, help children participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities.
  • OTs in mental health settings treat individuals who are mentally ill, mentally retarded, or emotionally disturbed.
  • To treat these problems, therapists choose activities that help people learn to cope with daily life. Activities include time management skills, budgeting, shopping, homemaking, and use of public transportation.
  • They may also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, or stress related disorders.
  • Recording a client's activities and progress is an important part of an OT's job. Accurate records are essential for evaluating clients, billing, and reporting to physicians and others.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • In large rehabilitation centers, therapists may work in spacious rooms equipped with machines, tools, and other devices generating noise.
  • Therapists are on their feet much of the time and face hazards such as back strain from lifting and moving clients and equipment.
  • Those providing home healthcare may spend time driving from appointment to appointment.
  • The baby-boom generation's movement into middle age, a period when the incidence of heart attack and stroke increases, will increase the demand for therapeutic services.
  • Growth in the population 75 years and older—an age group that suffers from high incidences of disabling conditions—also will increase demand for therapeutic services.


Getting Started

Career Outlook