Occupational therapists work with people whose ability to function in society
has been reduced by injury, sickness (physical or mental) or age. They aim
to improve the quality of life of the client. They are called OTs for short.
An occupational therapist works with a variety of patients with different
needs. For example, they may work part of the day with a former construction
worker who has lost his legs in an accident. The next patient may be a sculptor
with a brain injury who has to learn how to speak and walk all over again.
Occupational therapy involves working with tools and materials to improve
a patient's condition. So, an OT will use or adapt things from everyday life
to help a client.
Sometimes they may even design special tools for the client to use. For
example, if a patient has a disability that makes it difficult to use a regular
spoon, an OT may design a special spoon that fits comfortably in the client's
hand and is easier to use. In other words, occupational therapists get their
patients "occupied" with an activity that will help their recovery.
The first thing an occupational therapist does with a new patient is assess
and evaluate the person's functional capabilities. Using this information,
the OT can figure out what kind of therapy is needed to help the client. Then,
the OT works with the patient to regain or improve abilities lost to injury
Most occupational therapists need good physical health. They spend most
of their days on their feet and back strain is a constant risk. Luckily, learning
how to lift patients properly will decrease chances of injury.
"Physical requirements vary between job descriptions. For example, the
therapist in the mental health setting could perform very adequately from
a wheelchair, but those working in a physical rehabilitation setting would
need to be able to physically handle patients during...transfers to or from
wheelchairs," says Tom Wright. He is an occupational therapist in Tyler, Texas.
It's important to know that occupational therapy is a people job. You have
to love working with people. That means being comfortable touching them, moving
them and talking with them about sensitive and sometimes personal things.
Most occupational therapists work 35- to 40-hour workweeks, Monday to Friday.
There are exceptions, however. Some OTs may work weekends and shift work,
depending on where they work.
One of the trends affecting occupational therapy is a push to downsize
hospitals. As a result, OTs may be more likely to find work in community health
care -- such as home care and private practices -- rather than in hospitals.
They may also be contracted by insurance companies to work with clients.
If you want to be an occupational therapist, one of the first things you
should do is volunteer to work with people who are physically or mentally
challenged. Contact a volunteers' bureau or your local health agency, hospital,
YMCA, YWCA or disabled athletes' group.
Brynda Pappas is the manager of public affairs at the American Occupational
Therapy Association. "About 25 percent of our members work in school systems
with children," she says. "That comes as a surprise to a lot of people."
Sometimes, children need occupational therapy in order to perform everyday
tasks in school.
"For example," says Pappas, "the most common reasons a child is referred
to the occupational therapist is that they're having difficulty in mastering
handwriting. And that's a skill basic to completing assignments and handing
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