What is Occupational Therapy?

Updated: Apr 16

Yes, occupational therapists can help you find or get back to your job -- but no, that is not all we do (not even close).

“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health." - Mary Reilly, 1962 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture

Welcome to be well + balance! This site is designed to focus on health and wellness through an occupational therapy lens, so it is important that you first understand what occupational therapy is.


Occupational Therapy as defined by The American Occupational Therapy Association

"Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability."


While the word "occupation" can in fact mean a "job or profession," it can also be defined as "a way of spending time." It is this latter definition that is the focus of occupational therapy (and yes, your job falls under this definition, too). Occupational therapists are concerned with how you occupy your time, as the occupations, or activities, you engage in day-in and day-out greatly influence your health -- both now and in the long term.


The History of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy was first founded upon the idea that engagement in occupation could restore and maintain all aspects of health due to the physical and mental stimulation that activity provides.

“Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health." - Mary Reilly, 1962 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture

This quote, famous in the world of occupational therapy, is a simple, succinct representation of what the profession stands for. We believe that it is the engagement in meaningful occupations that helps to promote physical, mental, and even spiritual wellbeing.

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, 3rd Edition

What Exactly are Meaningful Occupations?

Ask yourself, "What are the things I do that matter to me?" and you'll have your answer. Meaningful occupations can range anywhere from the small things you do that you probably take for granted, like brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or taking a shower (what we call Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs) to going shopping, making your favorite meal, or commuting to work (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, or IADLs). Depending on your unique values, interests, and roles, other meaningful occupations include getting ready for and participating in sleep, participating in school and work, volunteering, playing games, watching sporting events, crafting, socializing with friends and family, and the list goes on. In other words, meaningful occupations can essentially be anything as long as it holds meaning and value to you. So, you see, the word "occupation" can mean a whole lot more than just your job.


The Process

Occupational therapists (OTs) are experts in task-analysis and use evidence-based practices to take on a holistic, client-centered approach to help individuals achieve their maximum level of preferred independence in everything they do in their daily roles and routines.


OTs begin the treatment process by (1) obtaining a client's occupational profile, which includes their occupational history, habits and routines, interests, values, and needs, and (2) evaluating skills, as well as personal and contextual factors that influence occupational performance. Practitioners use this comprehensive evaluation on the person, the environment, and occupation itself to develop a thorough, individualized treatment plan in order to achieve specific goals unique to the client's interests and needs.

Areas of Practice

Some examples of treatment may include:

  • Development of new skills, such as facilitating handwriting skills with a child in grade school

  • Rehabilitation back to an individual’s prior status before injury, such as engaging an adult in bathing and dressing ADLs after surviving a stroke

  • Adaptation of the task or environment to match an individual's performance skills, such as utilizing an adapted eating utensil with an individual who has limited hand strength/mobility

  • Maintenance of health status and prevention of disease and injury, such as empowering individuals to integrate stress management strategies and sleep hygiene practices into daily routines

The therapeutic process, may it be only a session or two in a hospital to months or even years in an outpatient setting, should always be goal-directed and meaningful to the client. It is a foundational principle of occupational therapy that by engaging in personally-valued meaningful occupations as means (i.e., cooking a hot meal with assistance), the client is more likely to achieve progress and reach their longer-term occupational goals as ends (i.e., cooking a hot meal independently).


In short, OTs first look at the client's roles that need to be fulfilled and the tasks, or occupations, that need to be done. OTs then identify all the different factors (personal, contextual, cultural, etc.) that go into and influence performance in those roles and tasks, and will then integrate, improve, modify, or restore these factors during treatment. The most defining factor of occupational therapy? To promote health, OTs help clients progress in their meaningful occupations through direct engagement in those occupations.


The Focus of be well + balance

While traditionally occupational therapy is one-on-one and hands on, this website is focused on the not-so-hands-on aspects and is intended as a general educational resource. From an occupational therapy perspective, prevention of disease and injury and promotion of health and wellness is all about creating healthy habits while doing the things you love.

Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” - National Institute of Wellness

As the definition of wellness suggests, attaining wellness is a process that requires intentional action. On be well + balance, I will be providing you with knowledge and resources to help you become more self-aware of your current habits and routines and to make informed choices and changes while discovering what works best for you. It is through these choices, and the power of occupation, that you can establish your fulfilling and meaningful life!


Disclaimer: This website is intended as an informational resource from the perspective of an occupational therapist and should not take the place of professional medical advice.

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