Occupational therapists work with clients to facilitate meaningful and purposeful activity and self-care through full and active daily living. Depending on the client’s situation—examples include recovering from a stroke, managing a mental health diagnosis, living on the autism spectrum, or requiring adaptive equipment to mitigate aging—occupational therapists make an assessment of client needs and design occupation-based modalities to address ongoing care issues.
To formulate a targeted approach to treatment and interventions, the occupational therapist must determine what independence means to their client so that their work constitutes a collaboration and not purely prescriptive. This means gaining an understanding of the client’s goals, a process that begins with the occupational therapist asking what is important to the client and how they define their independence.
To accomplish this, the occupational therapist takes a clinical approach. First, they record the client’s level of independence in activities of daily living (ADLs), which include bathing, dressing, feeding, hygiene, sleep, and functional mobility. In addition to these self-care activities, a therapist might need to address a client’s concerns about how to include other instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) in their occupational therapy intervention(s), addressing issues like caring for children or pets, managing a home, and facilitating mobility and transportation outside the home.
With a client’s specific needs and concerns in mind, an occupational therapist can utilize different types of intervention to aid in care, as outlined in “The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process” from the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. The “Framework” is described as “an official document of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)” presenting “a summary of interrelated constructs that describe occupational therapy practice.”
The Framework outlines “the therapeutic use of everyday life activities (occupations) with individuals or groups for the purpose of enhancing or enabling participation in roles, habits, and routines in home, school, workplace, community, and other settings.” So what are the interventions that occupational therapists employ to treat their clients? This article reviews them and also addresses:
The five types of interventions in occupational therapy include the use of:
Occupations are participation goals set by clients and practitioners that include daily life tasks like showering, getting dressed in the morning, preparing meals, and moving around in a larger community and meeting friends.
Activities are the smaller components that make up the occupations: running the shower, choosing clothing items and using buttons on a shirt, selecting ingredients and using kitchen appliances, arranging transportation, and creating a timeframe for social gathering. All of these are used to support performance skills and the performance patterns that create therapeutic routines.
Preparatory methods are provided by the practitioner to help aid in occupational performance by preparing the client for their occupations and activities. These may be modalities and assistive technology devices supplied and fitted by the occupational therapist, such as orthotics and splints to deal with pain management and muscle placement, a wheelchair to assist in mobility, or a recommended change in environment to address activity demands.
Preparatory tasks are taken on by the client directly to address performance skills through practicing components of occupations. Working on small motor skills and hand strengthening exercises with resistance bands and putty or using relaxation techniques and sensory integration to promote calm and clear thinking can help target specific client factors relevant to treatment.
Education efforts are initiated by the occupational therapist and target both the client and caregivers, utilizing the practitioner’s therapeutic use of self by encouraging expanded communication and understanding. The information and guidance provided by these efforts support a client’s overall well-being and positive performance patterns, providing important background material for treatment. Education in the use of compensatory strategies, home modifications, assistive technologies, and wellness programs allow communities and caregivers to support the client in their goal for greater independence.
Training refers to the specific technical instruction on how to operate devices in the home, reviewing manuals for adaptive equipment, or in other ways: empowering parents to focus on a child’s strengths and progress to promote growth or outlining a client’s care for family or medical support staff, for example. Training addresses performance and equipment and resource optimization, while education focuses on providing a greater understanding of treatment.
Advocacy and self-advocacy are an important part of therapeutic treatment and play a big role in the occupational therapist’s career. Occupational therapists may sit on advisory boards to address transportation for people with physical disabilities on school boards to advocate for children in the classroom, or work on national policy issues and programs. Clients may advocate for themselves by campaigning for access to buildings where they shop and work or challenging deficits in healthcare programs and policy. Advocacy by practitioners and clients furthers accessibility rights, improves safety protocols, and expands access to education for everyone.
Participation in group interventions can serve many functions for both patients and practitioners. Group activity is social activity and can be a productive forum for education, advocacy, and peer support. For clients, group participation is helpful for practicing self-regulation and socialization and can function in a medical or residential facility or a larger community setting. Practitioners can use groups to educate, advocate, and organize, and may find group settings productive spaces for some types of treatment.
The training and material involved in applying interventions and designing treatment plans are extensive. That’s why a master’s degree in occupational therapy is required for anything above entry-level positions in the field. While occupational therapy assistants (OTA) can work with a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need a master’s to become fully licensed to practice in your state. Occupational therapy master’s and doctoral programs in the US are regulated by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
In addition to completingf your master’s degree at an ACOTE accredited school, you must also pass the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination to be eligible to practice.
Completion of your degree takes about two years (three or more semesters) of full-time study, though several options allow you to shorten or extend your timeline. You may be able to complete your degree in an accelerated program if you’re building on a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. Conversely, you can extend the process to accommodate full-time work and a busy schedule by attending a nights-and-weekends program over seven semesters.
Most programs require either a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy (or related health science) or prerequisite coursework in human anatomy and physiology, behavioral science, abnormal psychology, human development, and statistics.
Applicants also need to submit official transcripts from all universities and colleges attended (showing a GPA of 3.0 or more), letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors, proof of relevant work experience (which should include at least 20 documented observation hours), and a personal statement of purpose.
The Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS) allows prospective occupational therapy students to create one OTCAS application, which they can submit to multiple programs.
Coursework for an occupational therapy master’s degree includes clinical and professional reasoning, functional anatomy, assessment in occupational therapy, leadership and advocacy, mental and behavioral health, therapeutic approaches, outcome measurements, assistive technology, biomechanical and neurorehabilitation theory and practice, and productive aging theory. Clinical work with patients is a large component of the curriculum. Fieldwork takes place alongside coursework.
Occupational therapists develop specializations after earning their master’s and working in a specialized area. Occupational therapists may earn certificates through the American Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) in areas like pediatrics, speech therapy, autism, mental health, brain injury, and research.
Some top occupational therapy master’s programs include:
(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)
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