What exactly is occupational therapy?

An ILC occupational therapist showing a gentleman assistive kitchen equipmentAn ILC occupational therapist showing a man a moveable shower head in the showerILC Occupational Therapist seated beside a young girl with disabilityA man on a scooter

I first came across the occupational therapy (OT) profession as a 22-year-old when I worked in a hospital in Melbourne. To be completely honest I had no idea what the profession was and how occupational therapists helped people. I remember going to one of the sections of the hospital and I could smell something tasty cooking in the oven. In a kitchen area there was an occupational therapist working with a patient who had an arm injury and she was teaching this man how to cook for himself with the use of one arm. I thought it looked like a rewarding job. I think I had assumed that occupational therapy had something to do with the workplace, just from its title. From this point on I had a bit more of an understanding about the profession, but not a great deal.

Three yeaAn ILC driver trained occupational therapist with a client in the carrs ago I started work at the Independent Living Centre WA as the Marketing and Communications Officer. Here I am surrounded by occupational therapists, 43 qualified OTs to be exact. Part of my role is to promote the wonderful services of this organisation and I’m very big on communicating to people in a simple language that is easy to understand.

Lady with limited use of one arm trialling assistive equipment at the ILC showroom kitchenWith all the changes occurring in the disability and aged care sectors, the ILC is responding by developing and growing our services so that we can best meet people’s needs now and into the future. Around a year ago we began providing occupational therapy assessments in people’s homes, so of course as part of my role I aim to make people aware of this service.

I’ve come to realise, that perhaps, like me when I hadn’t had anything to do with occupational therapy, many people may not be aware what OT actually is and how it could possibly help them.

So, I ask, how can we explain to people in simple terms, what occupational therapy is and how it can help them?

I surveyed our OTs and asked the question “In the last month, as an occupational therapist, what have you helped someone to do?” Some of the responses I received are outlined below:

  • I showed a client a sock aid so they could put socks on by themselves.
  • I helped someone find an alternative means of getting around their university campus.
  • I helped someone maintain independence in their toileting by giving them information on bottom wipers.
  • I helped a therapist find options for a client with a hearing impairment so they could continue caring for their spouse.
  • I have helped some children develop skills that will support their inclusion in the community…in school, at home, with family and friends. These include sharing and taking turns; using words to ask for toys; scooping with a spoon; identifying different shapes and colours; managing steps and uneven surfaces; prepare for using scissors and pencils; and having fun while playing with others.
  • I taught a lady how to transfer safely out of her bed and chair so that she could do it without asking for assistance from her husband.
  • I helped someone to access his community, which meant that he could visit his friends around town, rather than staying isolated at home. We achieved this through trialling a scooter and discussing funding options. The best part was seeing him later on, travelling along the footpath in his new scooter, with a huge grin on his face.

An occupational therapist showing a young girl a toy at the Noah's Ark toy libraryOne of our OTs Emma Van Chastelet commented “To me, OT is about helping people participate in the roles and tasks which they need to make their lives meaningful and functional.”

Another one of our OTs Kelly McAuliffe recently provided me with some information about occupational therapy; it stood out to me because of its simplicity so I will share it with you below.

Occupational therapy is a health care profession that helps people of all ages learn or regain skills so they can live the life they want. An occupational therapist can assist you to live on your own, become an active member of your community and maintain your confidence in doing every day activities.

OA man and a lady using assistive equipment to help them to continue to do gardeningccupational therapists work with people to identify how their health condition or disability affects them. They may also ask their client to demonstrate how they carry out the activities that are causing them problems. They will then make some suggestions for alternative ways to possibly do these activities.

An occupational therapist can support a person by:

  • Showing new ways of doing activities, for example, getting into and out of the car, showering, dressing, doing household activities such as laundry or cooking and getting to places in the community.
  • Providing advice on helpful products and equipment to make daily tasks easier, including mobility aids.
  • Helping to create a safer home.
  • Providing advice on falls prevention and strategies.
  • Building a person’s strength and balance.
  • Providing tips to reduce the effects of pain and fatigue.
  • Finding ways to manage memory loss.
  • Helping you to pursue leisure and community activities.

One of our Service Managers Hilary O’Connell also sent me this diagram which I think sums up the profession quite nicely:

A chart that shows all the things occupational therapists can help people to do, such as make coffee, get dressed, catch the bus, play guitar, walk the dog, phone your sister.

Are you an occupational therapist? What have you helped someone to do?

Have you had an occupational therapist assist you? How did they help?

ILC’s occupational therapists can help you to do everyday things and achieve your goals.

We offer a range of services including free information and advice about assistive equipment and technology as well as assessments in your home.

Check out our website for information about our services or contact our enquiry line to speak to an occupational therapist on 1300 885 886.

3 Responses

  1. I hadn’t thought about how important an occupational therapist can be after injuries! I know I would have a really hard time if I couldn’t do simple things like dressing myself. I think occupational therapists are doing wonderful work for people.

  2. Ashley Turns says:

    My sister has been considering finding some occupational therapy to help her daughter since one of the other moms in her group suggested it. So thank you for explaining that not only can it help you become more independent, you will also be able to build strength and balance. I’m sure knowing that her daughter would not be able to feel the effects of pain as much either, my sister will definitely be looking into occupational therapy centers around her.

    • Jacqui Caldwell says:

      Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear that this article assisted you with information about how occupational therapy can support people. The ILC provides occupational therapy services and if your sister lives in WA we would be happy to discuss with her how we may be able to help support her daughter. If she would like to contact us, the best phone number is (08) 9382 0200 and the email address is refer@ilc.com.au. We wish her all the best in obtaining some occupational therapy support.

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