OT Month: An Overview of Occupational Therapy

OT Month: An Overview of Occupational Therapy

There are many different fields in healthcare and while most people are familiar with doctors, nurses, and dentists, there are numerous specialists involved in making sure that everyone receives the most complete care possible. One of the often overlooked fields is that of OT, which stands for occupational therapy. These are often the unsung heroes who make sure that everyone has the best chance possible to regain as much function and mobility as possible after a serious injury. Where did this field come from? What do these dedicated professionals do to help their patients? What does the future hold for this field?

Occupational Therapy: A Brief History of the Field

While occupational therapy has been around in a rudimentary form since the ancient times, the health profession itself came to resemble its modern form in the early 20th century. The early champions of this field fought for recognition through incredible work ethic. They tried to champion both scientific and medical principles to help patients regain their quality of life. The professional OT society, called the American Occupational Therapy Association, was founded around the time of World War I. The profession was named Occupational Therapy shortly thereafter. As the field began to grow, they began to push the envelope of medicine. Professional occupational therapists believed that there was more to a patient than simply fixing the medical problems. They tried to attend to the patient’s social and economic needs as well as the medical. Using this comprehensive approach, they were able to heal numerous sources of dysfunction in the lives of their patients. While they borrowed medical principles, they also employed techniques still used in physical therapy, psychiatry, and social work. Using this model, they expended the scope of the profession and reformed the field with modern guidelines that spread shortly before World War II. With the numerous veterans returning home requiring rehabilitation, the field continued to expand its scope into its modern form. Today, it is a cornerstone of the medical system and occupational therapists help patients in both the inpatient and the outpatient setting.

What is the Education of an Occupational Therapist?

Like many healthcare professionals, occupational therapists need a tremendous amount of schooling to enter the profession. After finishing college, almost every occupational therapist in the United States must attend a four-year school and obtain a bachelor’s degree. After this, they must apply and be accepted into a graduate-level occupational therapy program. In this school, they will obtain a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. During their education, they will form the foundation of both occupational and clinical skills that are essential to their field of practice. They will study many medical principles, such as physiology and anatomy, while also studying psychology to understand both the breadth and the depth of their patient’s medical history. After learning the foundation, students will be required to demonstrate their skills on a clinical level with a practicing occupational therapist. Therefore, students must demonstrate competency both in the classroom and in the clinic before they are able to work as a professional OT. Furthermore, graduates will need to pass a national board exam before receiving their license to practice.

What can an Occupational Therapist Do for their Patients?

There are a number of different ways that an occupational therapist can provide key assistance for both their patients and their families. Some of their scope of practice includes:

Work with Children and Youth: Occupational health for children can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some of the common programs seen across the country today include occupational health with obesity prevention. This includes promoting both a proper diet and exercise routine. OT can also help kids who are struggling with proper handwriting or typing skills. Therapists also work with children who may have issues processing various sensory signals, helping them to remain calm in stressful situations. In this fashion, therapists are also trained to provide coping skills to children who struggle with anxiety.

Health and Wellness: This is an emerging area of occupational therapy. Therapists can promote the health and wellness of their patients in a variety of ways. They understand that while treating acute issues is vital, prevention of both disease and injury is very important. Through this method, they work to prevent comorbidities that would otherwise lead to both disease and injury. OT can also work with individuals who already have chronic conditions to try and limit the impact that these conditions have on their quality of life.

Adult Patients: Occupational therapists are also able to work with adults in a variety of settings. OT works with individuals with autism and other social or developmental issues to improve their social skills. Therapists also work with cancer patients on a regular basis to review methods of stress reduction in addition to helping them manage the fatigue that comes with their treatment. For those who have lost limbs due to disease or trauma, OT can work with individuals to use a prosthetic. OT can also work with patients and train caregivers to prevent the development of pressure sores or pressure ulcers. For patients who have had a stroke, working with OT is essential for regaining strength, endurance, balance, and range of motion.

Clearly, occupational therapy plays a vital role in a variety of healthcare settings. Without OT, many of these individuals would be left to fend for themselves. Where is the field going in the future?

The Future of Occupational Therapy

Like other healthcare fields, the future of occupational therapy is bright. With more research than ever being done into numerous diseases and injuries, more and more patients are surviving injuries and diseases that previously had no treatment or cure. While these individuals do survive, occupational therapy is essential for helping these patients regain a good quality of life. Therefore, new methods, equipment, and technology are being developed on a regular basis. These methods are important for making sure that these individuals can return to work and school while remaining out of the hospital as much as possible. Furthermore, as new equipment comes out, it will take a trained OT to help these individuals maximize the potential of their equipment. By putting this equipment to use, patients are able to regain skills that would have been lost without the assistance of a professional. With so much development in the healthcare field, it is no wonder that the job market for a trained occupational therapist looks better every day. For the professional OT, it will be vital to remain on top of the latest research in the field to ensure that all patients receive the best care that they possibly can.

Without a doubt, this is only a brief overview of a deep and challenging field. The professionals who dedicate their lives to helping their patients provide numerous services that are often overlooked by other healthcare specialists; however, their deeds do not go unnoticed by their patients and their families. It is important to take April to recognize occupational therapists and the quintessential services that they provide. If you have worked with an occupational therapist as a patient or as a fellow healthcare provider, make sure to take a few extra minutes to say thank you during OT month.

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