What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy helps people participate in life. Therapists work with patients of all ages to help them find ways to accomplish things through engagement in meaningful and purposeful activities or occupations.

Occupational therapists help patients improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, and sometimes compensate for permanent loss of function. The goal is to help patients lead independent, productive and satisfying lives.

Often patients suffer from disabling conditions caused by mental, physical, developmental or emotional problems. Occupational therapists carefully analyze physical, environmental, psychosocial, mental, and cultural factors to identify barriers to activities.

Therapy draws from such diverse fields as medicine, psychology, sociology, anthropology—all to help clients find success. Occupational therapists:

  • Teach new ways of approaching tasks
  • Help break down complex activities into achievable components
  • Perform comprehensive home and job site evaluations
  • Make adaptive equipment recommendations and provide training
  • Suggest environmental adaptations to remove obstacles or make them manageable
  • Provide guidance to family members and caregivers


Occupational therapists sometimes team with an occupational therapist assistant, an educated and licensed clinician working under the direction and supervision of the occupational therapist.

Occupational therapy typically begins with an individualized evaluation, during which the client and his or her family and the occupational therapist determine the person’s treatment goals. At that point, the occupational therapist begins to develop a customized plan to improve the patient’s ability to perform daily activities. Treatment also includes an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and possibly to make changes to the intervention plan.

In all cases, the patient is an integral part of the therapy team.

What are the benefits of occupational therapy?


Occupational therapists often help people recover from injury and regain skills. They provide support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes, and help children with disabilities participate fully in school and social situations.

Occupational therapy evaluates the patient’s environment. It may include comprehensive examinations of the patient’s home, workplace or even school classroom. Occupational therapy has a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and not the other way around.

Occupational therapy suggests solutions. It sometimes includes recommendations for special adaptive equipment and training in its use, and provides guidance and education for family members and caregivers.

Occupational therapy helps patients overcome limitations from disease, injury or disability. Children, adults, and the elderly can all benefit from an occupational therapist’s services and expertise.

For adults, an occupational therapist can address a host of issues including problems developing from the presence, or treatment, of breast cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, lower back pain, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, tendon injury, and traumatic brain injury.

For children, occupational therapists often help with issues from autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to challenges with handwriting. Often practitioners address issues like delayed development for children who might have difficulty swallowing, sucking, and chewing; developing coordinated tongue movements for speech; achieving independence in feeding, dressing, and using the bathroom; understanding relationships between people, objects, time, and space; and developing problem-solving and coping strategies.

Occupational therapists can also address problems associated with work places including ergonomics and healthy computing. They also work with patients and their families with issues resulting from mental health problems, such as mood disorders, depression and drug and alcohol abuse.

In addition, occupational therapists work with patients and their families addressing problems associated with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, hip replacement, home modification, low vision, older drivers and stroke.