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Occupational Therapist (O.T.)


Can you imagine how devastating it must be to no longer be able to do the things that you do daily in life, such as eat meals, go to the washroom, ride a bike or talk on the phone? With hard rehabilitative work and a lot of patience occupational therapists, also called clinical occupational specialists, help people in this position to regain their mental and physical abilities.

In order to understand what an occupational therapist (OT) does, it is important to understand how these therapists define the term "occupation". Everything we do in life, including taking care of ourselves, our enjoyment and leisure, and contributing to society productively, encompasses an occupational therapist's vision of one's occupation. Occupational therapists believe that occupations define people as individuals. Therefore, if a person becomes unable to do the things they want or need to do in order to live and to enjoy life (i.e. their occupation), then their physical and mental health and general well-being may be adversely affected.

Occupational therapists help people improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments. They work with people whose capabilities have been impaired by a physical illness or injury, developmental problems, the aging process, mental illness or emotional problems. Whatever the individual case, all of these people have trouble performing routine tasks and functioning "normally" in their everyday lives.

Occupational therapists not only help clients improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, but also compensate for permanent loss of function. Their goal is to help clients have independent, productive, and satisfying lives.

OTs develop therapeutic programs which include a number of creative techniques, such as making environmental changes to help clients perform daily tasks, and purposeful activities, like woodworking, painting, writing, and macrame to help clients restore and maintain functionality and prevent disability. They might use orthotic devices or splints to position and support injured limbs or help clients regain normal movement, vocational assessment and retraining to develop or improve work-related skills. They also advocate self-help strategies; training or retraining clients in daily living activities, getting clients "occupied" with getting on with their lives. OTs also promote health and exercise and practice therapy from a holistic point of view. If the therapy involves a group, there will be activities or discussions to facilitate social adjustment, stress alleviation and health promotion.

Unlike traditional and conventional therapies and rehabilitation processes, occupational therapists often design specific instruments for patients. People in wheelchairs will learn how to adapt. OTs may teach clients new ways to perform daily chores, manage their finances and shop for groceries, and help clients develop skills to cope with anxiety, substance abuse, stress, decreased energy and the normal aging process. They might even work with architects to plan accessible homes for people with disabilities or with engineers to design instruments and tools especially for people with a unique disability. Through these methods, OTs can help their clients improve strength, endurance, movement and self-confidence.

Lastly, occupational therapists may decide to specialize in working with a specific age group, such as children or the elderly, or with clients that have a specific disability such as arthritis or schizophrenia.
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  Interests and Skills  
Occupational therapists must be creative and innovative when solving occupational problems. They have excellent interpersonal skills including communicating with patients and they enjoy helping people get through their health related problems. Successful occupational therapists enjoy finding different ways to deal with problems, yet taking a methodical approach to their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess patients' capabilities to perform daily occupations (emotionally and physically) through observation, interviews and standardized and informal assessments
  • Develop treatment programs which may include manual and creative arts, industrial and vocational skills and recreational activities
  • Implement the treatment programs, which may include and intervention and evaluate a patient's progress
  • Maintain clinical and statistical records
  • May advise on health risks in the workplace or participate in other programs, such as pre-retirement programs, to prevent physical or mental health problems
  • May conduct research in occupational therapy, including field work
  • May act as an occupational therapy consultant or educator
  • Occupational therapists usually work standard office (about 40 hours per week) hours but some positions do require evening and weekend work to accommodate patients' schedules. In clinical settings, they may spend much of their working day standing, bending and assisting patients.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Occupational therapists work in both the public and private sectors. In the public sector, they practice in all types of hospitals, including psychiatric, convalescent and children's, worker's compensation centers, drug and alcohol addiction centers, schools, universities, community mental health agencies, and various government funded clinics. They also work in private practices, rehabilitation centers, disabled children's centers, home care, extended care facilities, regional health authorities, homes, group homes and lodges, mental health care facilities, industrial settings, shelters, vocational assessment units, and insurance companies. Those who are self-employed may also provide consulting services for various levels of government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Occupational therapists need patience and strong interpersonal skills to inspire trust and respect in their clients. Therefore, advancement in the private practice will be in the form of building up a client base and expanding in terms of clients. Those working in a clinic could advance to a supervisory or management position, directing and training other occupational therapists. Also, occupational therapists might go into hospital administration.

  Educational Paths  
In order to become an occupational therapist, the educational road is to take a university degree in occupational therapy or rehabilitation, followed by a required period of supervised practical training. Some students have a bachelor's degree before entering the OT program, however that is not a necessary application requirement.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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