Occupational therapy is the process by which people are assisted in their ability to perform their everyday activities, through assessment and intervention so that they can develop, recover or maintain their meaningful activities (or occupations). Occupational therapists are registered health professionals who work with people of all ages and abilities to perform the “occupations” they need and want to in all aspects of life, such as taking care of oneself and others, working, volunteering, and participating in hobbies, interests and social events.
Occupational therapists often work with people who have mental health problems, disabilities, injuries or impairments. They can also help people manage and live with chronic health conditions like arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Occupational therapists are experts in the relationship between what people do and their health and mental well being, and work with people to help make everyday living easier.
Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, injury rehabilitation, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive decline.
Typically, occupational therapists are university educated professionals and must be registered through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia (OTBA).
Occupational therapists often work closely with professionals in physical therapy, speech therapy, audiology, nursing, social work, psychology and medicine.
The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities (known in the field as “occupations”, and not to be confused solely with employment) of everyday life. Some examples of these occupations are:
- Activities of daily living: Self-care activities such as showering, dressing, hygiene, grooming and eating
- Household and community functioning: Home maintenance, driving, budgeting, shopping and community mobility
- Education: Activities which allow a person to participate effectively in a learning environment
- Leisure and play
- Social participation: Interacting positively with others in the community
- Work (paid and unpaid): Participating in employment and volunteer activities
Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession that uses ongoing assessments to understand what activities are important to people and identifying any issues they may have in performing them. Occupational therapists will then help enhance personal life skills, adjusting the environment to suit the activity or adjusting the activity itself.
Occupational therapists can also prescribe assistive technology devices and therapy equipment to help perform the identified occupations and instruct patients in the best ways to customise and use this equipment.
Occupational therapists can commonly be found:
- Working with children
- In acute care
- Working with people with mental health needs
- In rehabilitation settings
- In injury prevention and management
- Working with the elderly, such as those suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia
- Working in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
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Occupational therapists can assess the physical functional capacity of a person to work. This is an important element in assessing one’s capacity for work and to earn income. Economic loss arising from personal injury is a major component of damages in many personal injury claims and can be a challenging issue to assess.
The need to assess capacity for work or to earn income arises in a number of circumstances, such as motor vehicle and workplace accidents.
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