What is Occupational Therapy? A Comprehensive Guide to OT

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Occupational Therapy (OT) – it’s a unique, all-around approach to healthcare. It helps people tackle life’s hurdles due to sickness, injury, or ongoing health concerns. It’s different from the usual medical treatments, which focus on easing symptoms. Occupational Therapy digs deeper, looking at the whole picture, while focusing on life’s everyday tasks (or “occupations”) that matter to people of all ages. 

Occupational Therapy’s big goal? Boosting people’s quality of life. It’s about giving people the tools to be more self-reliant, whether they’re recovering from a major medical condition, living with disabilities, or getting older. Occupational therapists work with clients. Together, they figure out how to make daily tasks easier at home or work. This could mean changing the surroundings, tweaking how tasks are done, learning new skills, or getting support, both emotional and practical.

This blog post shines a light on the nitty-gritty of occupational therapy. We’re diving into what it really is, its history, and its main ideas. We’ll look at the many places Occupational Therapy happens, the different ways it’s practiced, and how occupational therapists make an instrumental difference in health and well-being. By the end, you’ll understand how key Occupational Therapy is in helping people manage their daily lives with more comfort and confidence.

What Occupational Therapy Really Is

Occupational therapy – it’s all about helping people through doing. At its heart, it is a healthcare field that’s focused on the client. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do. Sometimes, this means changing the activity or adapting the environment to fit the person better.

The story of occupational therapy is as colourful as the ways it’s practiced. It’s a mix of many fields like psychiatry, medicine, psychology, and physical therapy. Initially focused on the area of mental health, Occupational Therapy has expanded over the years to address a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments. My OT Spot has a great article outlining the history of Occupational Therapy – https://www.myotspot.com/history-of-occupational-therapy/

At the core of Occupational Therapy are a few key ideas. Every client is different, so therapists tailor their approach. They might change up the living space, tweak how tasks are done, or teach new skills to help clients reach their goals. Occupational therapists also emphasise the importance of considering a person’s physical, psychological, social, and environmental needs.

The Wide World of Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy is like a huge umbrella that covers a lot. It’s got something for everyone. It includes areas such as paediatrics, helping children achieve developmental milestones or overcome learning difficulties; geriatrics, assisting older adults in maintaining independence; mental health, supporting individuals with mental health conditions; and physical rehabilitation, aiding those recovering from injuries or surgeries.

Occupational therapists are everywhere. In hospitals, where they assist in acute care and rehabilitation; in schools, aiding children with disabilities; in outpatient clinics, offering specialized therapy; and in clients’ homes where they promote health and wellness. In each setting, the approach and techniques may differ, but the goal remains the same – to enable clients to live their lives to the fullest.

How Occupational Therapy Works – Step by Step

The Occupational Therapy process is all about the client and it moves through several important stages. Here’s the breakdown of each stage.


  • Understanding the Client’s Background: Gathering information about the client’s medical history, lifestyle, and daily activities. Clients are asked to go through their day from morning to night.
  • Identifying Challenges and Goals: Discussing difficulties the client faces in their daily life and setting achievable goals.
  • Evaluating Skills and Needs: Conducting standardised and non-standardised assessments and observations to assess the client’s physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities.


  • Developing a Customised Plan: Based on what we’ve learned, we create a plan just for the client. This plan focuses on what the client wants to achieve and not solely on what the therapist wants to work on.
  • Setting Targets: We lay out clear, trackable short and long-term goals.
  • Teamwork: We involve the client, their family, and other health professionals to ensure we’re covering all bases.


  • Putting Plans into Action: We start the activities and exercises we planned. These can be as varied as practicing dressing to driving practice.
  • Tweaking the Surroundings: We make changes to their spaces or how they do things for easier access and more independence. I will be writing a future blog post that I will link here about adapting your surroundings.
  • Learning: We teach new tricks and guide clients to return to their normal level.


  • Monitoring Progress: We regularly check how they’re doing with their goals.
  • Adjusting the Plan as Needed: Modifying the intervention strategies based on the client’s evolving needs and progress.
  • Feedback and Communication: Maintaining open communication with the client to receive feedback and make necessary adjustments.

Conclusion and Follow-up:

  • Celebrating Wins: We look back at the goals achieved and progress made. For some, brushing their teeth is the biggest obstacle they face. It is important to celebrate the achievements a client has made, no matter how big or small. 
  • Looking Ahead: We chat about any ongoing or future needs and make plans. This could be where the process ends and a client is discharged. 
  • Extra Help: If needed, we point clients to more resources or refer them to other professionals.

Occupational Therapy is a journey, and every step is about making life a bit easier and more enjoyable for our clients.

The Role of Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists are the backbone of Occupational Therapy, playing a vital role in the healthcare system. They bring a unique set of skills and expertise to the table:

  • Educational Requirements and Skills: To become an occupational therapist in Ireland, you must have an undergraduate or master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. This rigorous education covers a range of subjects from anatomy and physiology to psychology and sociology, equipping occupational therapists with a comprehensive understanding of the human body and mind. In a future post, I will outline how to become an occupational therapist in Ireland.
  • Day-to-day Responsibilities: Occupational therapists assess and treat clients, develop and implement intervention plans, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. They also stay updated with the latest research and techniques in the field.
  • Adaptability and Continuous Learning: The field of occupational therapy is ever-evolving. Occupational therapists are expected to continuously learn and adapt their practices to provide the best care possible.
  • Professional Regulation: Occupational therapists are required to hold CORU registration. CORU is the regulatory body for occupational therapists in Ireland and occupational therapists are regularly called for review of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The Impact of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy isn’t just a job – it’s a life-changer for many. It’s all about giving people the power to live their daily lives on their terms, and the ripple effects of that are huge:

  • Success Stories: Countless stories highlight the transformative power of Occupational Therapy. From helping a stroke survivor regain mobility to assisting a child with developmental delays achieve independence, the success stories are both inspiring and affirming.
  • Benefits for Individuals and Communities: Occupational Therapy not only benefits individuals but also contributes to healthier, more inclusive communities by enabling people of all ages and abilities to participate fully in life.
  • Preventing Bigger Problems: Occupational therapy isn’t just about fixing issues; it’s also about stopping problems before they get bigger. It’s a key player in preventive health care, keeping an eye on potential health and wellness issues early on.

In short, the impact of Occupational Therapy is massive. It’s not just changing lives; it’s creating happier, healthier communities.

Future Trends in Occupational Therapy

As a dynamic field, Occupational Therapy continues to evolve, with several emerging trends shaping its future:

  • Emerging Areas and Research: New research areas, such as the use of virtual reality and telehealth in Occupational Therapy, are expanding the possibilities for treatment and care.
  • Impact of Technology and Innovation: Advances in technology, like assistive devices and adaptive equipment, are continually enhancing the practice of occupational therapy. From tools that help people do everyday tasks to equipment that adapts to their needs, technology is constantly pushing Occupational Therapy to new heights.
  • Challenges and Opportunities: The field faces challenges like addressing the needs of an ageing population and ensuring equitable access to Occupational Therapy services, but these also present opportunities for growth and development.

Occupational Therapy plays a crucial role in the healthcare landscape. It’s not just about fixing things; it’s about empowering people to live life fully, whether they’re bouncing back from an injury or navigating life with a disability.

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Owen Joyce