The scope of OT practice is broad and ever-evolving. This is what OT is to me.
I get asked this question all. the. time. And there was a time when I would just say, “it’s similar to physical therapy” and then segue the conversation to another topic. Occupational therapy is a beautiful career path that is difficult to explain for the mere reason that the role of an occupational therapist completely varies depending on what setting you’re working in and with what population you’re working with. Truthfully, I think occupational therapy can be whatever it is you want it to be.
From my perspective, occupational therapists help people become more independent in their everyday lives and encourage independence through engagement in meaningful activities individual to the client. I now work in private home care with neuro patients. This means I have several roles in assisting my client.
Through neuromuscular re-education, I assist the client in activating neural pathways to regain that communication from brain to muscle. This is used in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes including: strengthening a flaccid arm, increasing (and sometimes decreasing or just regulating) sensory perception in the affected upper extremity, improving postural control for upright sitting and standing, etc.
We also assist our neuro patients in reorganizing the pathways that control vision. Through a variety of therapeutic techniques, we address several common visual deficits associated with neurological conditions including: visual neglect, visual field cuts, visual perception, etc. Just like the muscles in your arms and legs, our eyes are also controlled by muscles!
We also help patients re-integrate into their everyday life (community, school, social participation) through massed practice and compensatory strategies (think–life coach…but more technical).
Finally, we are the go-to professionals for home safety evaluations. When you go from walking independently to living life in a wheelchair, accessing rooms in your home can be difficult. We got you covered in making appropriate recommendations for modifications and renovations.
And folks, what I have explained above is only one of the many hats I wear as an occupational therapist. I also consider myself to wear the hat of writer, entrepreneur, private practice owner, advocate, community spokesperson, etc. These other hats are, fortunately, just coming out into the open as “possible” alternative career paths for occupational therapists. I’d like to shed light on this: I have never been happier, or felt more passionate about this career path, until I decided to (pun intended) don and doff various hats. Being able to juggle patient care, private practice, an established non-profit, community outreach, and advocacy/education on the prevalence of brain injury feeds my soul and is the exact reason I chose to pursue this colorful career.
You see, the scope of our practice is broad and ever-evolving. This can make it difficult for the layman to understand and, often times, difficult for the occupational therapist to even explain. While it can seem easier in the moment to brush it off with a broad answer or, in my case–flat out lie and draw too easily a comparison between another discipline, I encourage you to educate others on the not-so-definitive role of this profession. No one knows what they don’t know–so let it be known.