What Occupational Therapists Do

Occupational therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that provides many wide-ranging services to a variety of people, from infants to older adults. Occupational therapy is provided to people who have been referred by a physician due to a problem with their ability to perform normal activities of daily living (ADLs). This may be due to physical injury, emotional or developmental problems, stroke, elective surgery, disease processes, aging, or birth defects, just to name a few.

The goal of OT is to maximize the ability of each individual to perform self-care, work, and leisure activities to the best of their physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities. Ultimately, the goal is also to help people re-learn skills needed to live independent, productive, and satisfying lives. An occupational therapist often works in conjunction with other professionals (physical therapists, speech-language therapists, social workers, teachers, etc...) as part of a team. The physician and the patient are a part of that team as well.

Pediatric (children) and geriatric (the elderly) patients benefiting from OT services may have conditions related to orthopedic, neurological, psychiatric, and other conditions. Diagnoses often referred to occupational therapy include autism, head trauma, hand and upper extremity injuries/conditions, stroke (CVA), total hip/knee replacements, cerebral palsy, sensory integration deficits, depression, cancer, arthritis, and many, many more.

Treatments provided by occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistants are many.

Examples include:

  • Exercises to increase motion and/or strength.
  • Training in activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, grooming, etc.)
  • Craft performance
  • Instruction in the use of adaptive equipment
  • Transfer training to help patients get into and out of bed, bathtub, toilet, chair, etc.
  • Coordination training
  • Stress management and time management
  • Fabrication of splints for protection/positioning and prevention of contractures
  • Return to work programs.
  • Handwriting and fine motor instruction
  • Sensory integration techniques

Types of Work Environments

OTs may work in full-time, part-time, or PRN ("as needed") positions in a variety of settings including:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Private practice
  • Schools
  • Home health agencies
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Psychiatric facilities

What Education is Needed to Work as an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists have a master’s or doctorate from an accredited occupational therapy (OT) program at a college or university. Occupational therapist assistants have an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapist assistant (OTA) program at a college or university.


According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary of an occupational therapist is approximately $96,370 per year.

Professional Organization

The American Occupational Therapy Association

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