Occupational therapy is difficult to pin down, define, and explain to patients (even doctors struggle from time to time). So feel no shame about struggling to understand what it is that OTs do. That being said, we’ll start with what they don’t do: OT, despite the name, is not about getting anyone employed. It’s also not just another name for physical therapy- our cousins in the therapy world. So then, what is it that they actually do? And when is it appropriate to refer to them?
What They Do
1. Look at a Patient’s Physical Capabilities. They are assessing strength, range of motion, posture, and balance to determine what limitations might exist.
2. Environment Modifications. They can modify a patient’s environment to support a person’s ability to perform their self-care tasks in order to facilitate safety and independence. This is done with the use of equipment, (shower bench, long handled sponge, sock-aid, weighted silverware) rearrangement of furniture, (raising the height of couches for improved transfer, widening pathways, removing doors, etc.), or simply rearranging a kitchen to make it more accessible by wheelchair or convenient so that a person doesn’t need to do something dangerous just to get a plate.
3. Assess the Method for Which a Patient Completes a Task. An occupational therapist can change the way the person does a particular task to make it safer or improve their ability to complete the task.
They don’t just look at the patients themselves, they look beyond whatever dysfunctions may exist to help a person overcome the barriers to their engagement in activity.
When to Refer
Below is a small sample of the laundry list of issues that should guide you to referring to an OT.
If any of these questions give you pause, OR if you’re nodding vigorously to any/each question, then you known who to call--and it ain’t the ghost busters!