I have got that look down now. You know, the look someone gives me when I tell them I want to be an OT.
It’s like a cross between a nod and a deep stare into my soul. Like the kind of look you get when you tell your grandma you’re okay with being single for now. “Ah uuhhhmm.”
Then comes the question that typically follows immediately after the stare:
“What is that?”
“An Occupational Therapist.”
Wait, what is that?”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to give you the low-down on the meaning of this confusing title to an amazing career.
First of all, I want you to know I was once the stare-giver myself. I remember the first time someone said the words “occupational therapist,” only one thought came to mind:
A well-dressed woman with a writing pad in her hand listening to a blubbering car salesman drowning in his career-choice regret while laying on the sofa in front of her.
I mean it made sense, right? An occupation is something you do for a living, like a job or a career. Sounds right. Movies taught me that therapists are those people who are bored to death listening to their client’s problems. So that’s got to be it, right?
Almost every other therapy title makes sense. Music, Speech, Physical, Art, Hippo (okay, maybe not that one)… But really, why is Occupational Therapy not about listening to career problems?
The word “occupation” can not only define a job, but an occupation can be anything someone does for a living.
All babies do for a living is sleep, cry, sleep, refill their diapers, and sleep some more. Toddlers have a bigger load of occupations to fill their day. They crawl, try new foods, play with others, experiment with language, and sleep. Teenagers and adults have an even larger load, and so much so that many don’t realize how much they really do in a day. Sleeping, bathing themselves, using the bathroom, tying shoes and buttoning buttons, fixing their own meals, driving to work, and socializing with colleagues can all be squeezed into a single day. Senior adults used to be able to pack all of the same occupations into their days but now they can’t do it like they used to. That’s where an OT comes in — to help anyone who can’t do an occupation because of a physical or mental problem.
These occupations are called ADLs, or “Activities of Daily Living” and they help OT’s determine where to intervene and set goals for their patients.
Let’s say there is a 10 year old girl named Sally Smith. Sally has just started recovering from a tragic car accident resulting in the loss of her dominant right hand. Well, Sally is sitting in her 5th grade class where the students were just assigned to cut out shapes for a project. Sally’s teacher forgot that Sally is still struggling with the loss of her hand and this assignment might be hard for her. That’s when Sally’s new school Occupational therapist can step in to help Sally find a way to work while still being included in the activity. Through therapy, the OT can show Sally an alternative to scissors, where Sally can cut shapes out by pressing down on a machine. If Sally wants to cut with scissors in the future, her OT can also help her re-learn how to grasp and cut with her left hand. In this example, an OT is there to help Sally figure out a way to re-learn, adapt, and be included in every activity, despite her new change of abilities.
Occupational therapists work with everyone. From newborn babies to aging seniors, OT’s are there to set goals, create new routes, and make sure you are getting the most out of life.
They adapt living spaces for those in wheelchairs or with low vision problems. They spend their days working around multiple types of disabilities and every patient is different. They they play with children who struggle with socializing. They re-teach, reassess, and reevaluate. They are advocates for those who are left out, like Sally Smith would have been if not for her OT. They communicate with parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends of the patient so that the patient is heard.
Occupational therapists can work in hospitals, mental institutions, pediatric clinics, acute care hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, schools, community centers, workplaces, homes, and some even choose to travel.
I chose OT because I love being around people and solving problems in creative ways. If you or someone you know would love to learn more about this career – do a little research! Observe for a day at a local clinic! Tell someone about OT! And the next time you hear someone say occupational therapy say “Hey! I know what that is!” because I swear they might just high five or kiss you because you understand.
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Thanks for reading!