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What is Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists believe that there is a relationship between occupation, health and well-being. Findings from studies over the years indicate that occupation has an important influence on health and well-being. Ranging from physiological to functional outcomes, it is clear that the performance in everyday occupations is an important part of everyday life. Withdrawal or changes in occupation for a person have a significant impact on a person’s self-perceived health and well-being.

There are many definitions of occupational therapy:

The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (1989) states that:

Occupational therapy is the treatment of physical and psychiatric conditions through specific activities to help people to reach their maximum level of function and independence.

Definitions of occupational therapy do not cover the scope of the profession.

‘Occupational therapy is concerned with the individual and the roles, occupations, activities and interactions within the individual’s personal environment. Occupational therapy enables and empowers the individual to be a competent and confident performer in his or her daily life, and enhances his or her well-being. Occupational therapy uses activities creatively and therapeutically to achieve goals which are meaningful to the individual and to reduce the effect of dysfunction. Occupational therapy requires the individual to engage actively in the process of therapy and to be a partner with the therapist in designing and directing this process’ (Hagedorn 1997).

Professional goal

The major goal of occupational therapy is to enable the client to achieve a satisfying and productive life through the development of skills that will allow him to function at a level satisfactory to himself and others. Occupational therapy is focused upon enabling the individual to achieve what is important to him rather than aiming for normality, conformity or desired professional opinions.

* Assess the patients needs in terms of the occupations which are important to him

* Identify the skills needed to support those occupations

* Remove or minimise barriers to successful occupational performance

* Assist the client to develop, relearn or maintain skills to a level of competence that will allow him to perform occupations to his own satisfaction

* Help the patient to achieve a satisfactory balance of activities in his daily life, i.e., self-care, productivity and leisure.

The focus of intervention is always the patient and his goals, rather than the problem or the method of intervention (Creek 1997).

The following six elements reflect a consensus in the profession:

1. Occupational performance — occupational therapists are centrally concerned with how individuals function in their work, leisure and domestic/personal self-care. A person’s occupational performance may well become disrupted or impaired when he becomes unwell, either physically or psychologically. We work with these individuals who experience some difficulty in their daily life functioning

2. Importance of being active — through being active it is believed that we learn about ourselves, develop skills and maintain out physical/mental health

3. Therapeutic use of activities — occupational therapy is premised on the idea that purposeful activity can be therapeutic and can be used to improve individual’s functioning. We apply activities in the treatment process valuing the activities inherent properties, the experience of ‘doing’ the activity and the end-product. Occupational therapists employ two main types of activities, activities of daily living (cooking) and specifically orientated therapy activities (such as groupwork). Treatment involves grading and adapting the activity to enable the patient to achieve an optimum level of performance and satisfaction.

4. Problem-solving process — the occupational therapy process (assessment – treatment plan — implementation of treatment — evaluation) is primarily a problem-solving process.

5. Holistic gaze — occupational therapists aim to view and treat individuals as complex, whole beings, whereby attending to emotional, cognitive, social and physical aspects of the person

6. Unique individuals — all individuals are seen as unique and the implication this carries for occupational therapy is that each person requires his or her own individualised treatment programme, containing aims, objectives and goals.

Occupational therapists central concern with occupation and activity provides us with a unique focus and role.

Core skills

* The use of purposeful activity and meaningful occupation as therapeutic tools

* The ability to enable patients to explore, achieve and maintain balance in daily living tasks and roles

* The ability to assess the effects of, and then to manipulate, physical and psychosocial environments to maximise function and social integration

* The ability to analyse, select and apply occupations as specific therapeutic media

Legitimate tools

* Purposeful activity — the activity is both purposeful and meaningful to the patient to enable the patient to reach their goal

* The environment — the goal of intervention maybe to help the patient to adapt to his environment, or to adapt the environment to suit the patients needs and abilities, e.g., equipment prescription and provision (perching stool, grab rails, bath board, kettle tipper).

* The therapeutic use of self — this is the therapists ability to relate effectively to patient, which will determine the success of the relationship between the therapist and the patient, e.g., empathy, flexibility, self-awareness.