Occupational therapy is a holistic, patient-centered, occupation-based approach to life skill development. This health profession helps people whose lives have been altered by physical or mental disease, injury, or other health problems. People of any age can benefit from occupational therapy to prevent injury and improve skills needed to perform everyday tasks or "occupations" at home, work, or school. Examples include activities of daily living such as dialing a phone, using a computer, writing a check, and driving a car.
Occupational therapists first came onto the scene during World War I, when practitioners worked with soldiers suffering from shell shock, amputations, and other injuries. Also in the early 20th century, occupational therapists treated persons with tuberculosis and polio.
Today, the role of occupational therapists is varied and broad. For the last several decades, occupational therapists have treated patients suffering from physical and developmental disabilities such as brain injury, spinal cord injury, repetitive stress injury, stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, mental retardation, and Parkinson's, among others. At the turn of the new millennium, however, practitioners began to prove their worth in areas such as vision treatment, mental health, ergonomics consulting, and home modification.
Through activities of daily living (ADL) evaluations, it is determined by the practitioner how independent a client is in performing his or her daily tasks at home, at work, and within his or her social environment. After evaluation, an occupational therapist may implement an intervention to facilitate a more independent lifestyle. The goal of occupational therapy practitioners is to facilitate the patients physical independence. One way that they do this is by implementing exercises that aid in mobility. When a patient has impaired vision, a therapist might analyze lighting and contrast needs in the home, and equip the patient with tools to make the home and work environment more functional. Such tools might include a magnifying glass, or auxiliary lighting. In ergonomics consulting, a therapist might advise businesses and industries about functional and comfortable work stations that minimize repetitive stress injuries caused by repetitive movements, such as typing or assembly line work. Interventions that help patients—such as those with developmental disabilities, or those in mental health settings—to function on a daily basis, such as stress management and communication skills, might also be facilitated by occupational therapists.
Meghan M. Gourley, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,