What is Occupational Therapy?

The simplest way to explain OT is this: therapy that targets ‘participation in everyday living’ (AOTA). The ‘occupation’ in occupational therapy refers to a wide variety of life activities, including:

  • Activities of daily living (ADLs) – taking care of one’s own body in ways that enable basic survival and well-being (e.g., bathing, showering, toileting, dressing, eating, functional mobility, hygiene, and sexual activity)
  • Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) – more complex home and community activities (e.g., care of others, care of pets, communication management, driving, financial management, health management, clothing and home management, cooking and cleaning, shopping, spiritual activities, and home safety and maintenance)
  • Rest and sleep
  • Education
  • Work and volunteering
  • Play and leisure
  • Social participation

From an OT perspective, functional engagement, participation and health can be impacted by many factors. For example, the environment and social supports are just as impactful as a client’s individual factors. OTs look at the big picture surrounding a client’s limitations and use meaningful occupations (things the client enjoys and/or wants to be able to do) as both a means and an end to improve function. Depending on the client, the therapeutic process might include coaching, skill development, environmental adaptations, task accommodations, and collaboration with other professionals to maximize a client’s development, recovery from an injury or illness, or ability to age in place.

When a client is referred for occupational therapy, regardless of the setting, the basic process will include an evaluation, intervention (treatment), and targeted outcomes (goals). Sometimes this process is brief, while other times therapy may need to continue for a longer period of time. The end goals are always the same, however: maximal independence and fulfillment in daily life, whatever that may look like for a client.

For more information, download this brochure, visit AOTA’s website, or watch this video that highlights the broad scope of OT: