An occupational therapist helps you identify goals and overcome physical, mental and social challenges. They work with you to help you do the activities in your daily routine and give you the resources you need to feel safe and supported.
An occupational therapist is a healthcare provider who helps you improve your ability to perform daily tasks. They’ll help you learn how to stand, sit, move or use different tools to participate in your activities safely.
Occupational therapy helps people live as self-sufficiently as possible. The “occupation” in “occupational therapy” doesn’t necessarily mean your ability to do your job — although, some people do use occupational therapy to help them get back to work after an injury. “Occupation” is a general term providers use to mean any of the daily tasks you do.
You might need occupational therapy after a trauma or injury. Some people receive occupational therapy to help manage changing symptoms from a chronic (long-term) condition or disability.
You’ll probably meet with an occupational therapist at their office or in a hospital. But you can work with an occupational therapist in any location where you’ll perform daily activities, including:
An occupational therapist will work with you to identify challenges, develop goals and come up with ways to help you meet them.
Occupational therapists usually work with their clients in stages, including:
Usually, the first time you meet with an occupational therapist, they’ll conduct an assessment. They’ll get to know you and your loved ones, talk with you about your goals and discuss any barriers to success you’re currently experiencing.
The therapist might also examine your home, workplace or any other environment you visit frequently. This will help them know exactly where you’ll need support and how they can help you meet your goals.
“Intervention” is a term that refers to anything that needs changing in your environment or routine to help you complete tasks better. One type of common intervention is learning to use a new piece of assistive equipment — like a prosthetic (artificial replacement) limb or a wheelchair. Sometimes, interventions are learning exercises or routines that will increase your physical strength. You might work with a mental health professional on any emotional or mental health issues you’re experiencing.
Everyone’s needs are unique, and your occupational therapist will develop interventions customized to your physical, mental and social goals.
An occupational therapist will help you improve your ability to perform tasks (occupations) that you need to do every day to live as self-sufficiently as possible. They’ll help you find ways to safely:
This isn’t a complete list of the activities an occupational therapist can work on. They’ll help you find ways to perform every task you need to in your day-to-day life safely. Let your therapist know what your goals are, and they’ll work with you to meet those needs.
Your occupational therapist will monitor your progress as you get used to your interventions. They’ll meet with you to assess your progress over time. They’ll talk to you about your mental and physical health and work with you to adjust any interventions that aren’t working as well as you’d like.
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Your occupational therapist will help you find ways to accomplish your movement and activity goals while making sure you have all the resources you need.
They’ll work with other members of your healthcare team to improve your overall physical health. They’ll also connect you to any emotional or social resources you need to feel safe and supported during your day-to-day routine.
An occupational therapist can help you with any injury, condition or disability that makes it harder to go through your daily routine.
You might work with an occupational therapist while you’re recovering from an injury or trauma, including:
Occupational therapists also work with people who have chronic conditions such as:
Occupational therapists support people with certain disabilities, including:
All occupational therapists in the United States must be licensed and certified. They’re required to have a bachelor’s degree from an undergraduate college or university and a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
It usually takes six to seven years to become an occupational therapist. Most occupational therapists take four years to complete an undergraduate degree, then two or three years to earn their master’s degree.
In the U.S., all occupational therapists must pass an exam administered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy before they’re allowed to practice. Some states have an additional exam or license requirements.
Occupational therapists aren’t medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathy (DOs). They can’t diagnose health conditions, prescribe medication or perform surgeries.
Occupational therapy and physical therapy both help you move your body better or more safely. The difference between them is their end goal.
Physical therapy is usually focused on treating a specific area of your body. You might need physical therapy to reduce symptoms of a health condition like pain and stiffness or while you’re rehabbing after an injury or surgery.
Occupational therapy is a more holistic type of therapy. That means an occupational therapist will work with you to overcome challenges that are mental and social, as well as strengthen or heal your physical body. You might receive occupational therapy and physical therapy at the same time to help with different aspects of symptom management or recovery.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Occupational therapy is an ongoing process. It’ll take time and adjustments to find the right interventions and therapies that help you accomplish your goals. Be honest with your occupational therapist about your goals — tell them which activities you want to do. They’ll do their best to find ways to help you reach your goals while helping you feel stronger and safer throughout your day.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2023.
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