Occupational Therapy

I’m an Occupational Therapist and no one understands what I do

Written by Erin Garner

When you hear the term ‘Occupational Therapy’  (OT), what comes to mind? For many, it’s a profession shrouded in mystery. The truth is that unless you know someone who requires an OT, it’s not a career people tend to know much about. Despite this, OTs offer a highly important and valuable service to hundreds of thousands of people all over Australia. Just like physiotherapists, psychologists, speech pathologists, and dieticians, OTs are highly skilled and qualified allied health professionals whose aim is to help people maximise their potential for well-being and personal fulfilment. With all the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding OTs, it’s time we set the record straight and recognise exactly what it is we do for the community. 

What is an Occupational Therapist?

First things first, let’s tackle the term ‘occupational’ in occupational therapy. I’ve found that it’s a common source of confusion, as it sounds like it’s all about your job or career. In reality, ‘occupation’ refers to how you spend your time, your daily activities, and how you ‘occupy’ yourself. It encompasses everything a person might do in their day, from brushing their teeth in the morning to the physical and mental skills they need to pursue their passions. An OT’s role is to help people regain, maintain, or improve their ability to live a happy, confident life.

Empowering and enhancing lives

OTs are indispensable professionals whose services are recognised and regulated by Australia’s health regulator (AHPRA). By assessing, adapting, and creating strategies to enhance an individual’s ability to participate in daily activities, OTs contribute significantly to improved physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being.

And we don’t stop at that: OTs strive to elevate an individual’s overall quality of life by promoting participation in the community and employment. This multi-faceted approach not only benefits individuals but also reduces reliance on funding schemes, creating a more sustainable and inclusive system.

What exactly do OTs do? 

Once people learn what an OT actually is, they often wonder what we do day-to-day to help clients thrive. The beauty of working as an OT is that every client and situation will be different, allowing you to meet people from all different backgrounds and walks of life and tailoring care to suit their specific needs and goals. 

To do this, OTs use a wide array of tools and strategies to help clients with a variety of needs, whether that be people living with disabilities or those recovering from injury or surgery. We assess a person’s abilities, challenges, and needs in order to develop tailored treatment plans that improve their capacity to perform daily activities, whether that be driving, cooking, dressing and undressing, or even going to work or school. 

Another common misconception about OTs is that we only focus on the physical body. In fact, mental health is a core focus for many OTs who work closely with clients experiencing mental illness. An OT working in this area will often support clients to develop coping strategies, manage stress, and enhance their emotional well-being by engaging in meaningful activities that benefit their minds and bodies.

Another big part of being an OT is helping clients integrate assistive devices and technology into their everyday lives. Whether it be wheelchairs, adaptive computer equipment, or even modified vehicles, OTs can assess and provide recommendations for clients to use these devices that support their participation in important daily activities.

These are just a few examples of how wide-ranging the field of occupational therapy really is. People of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds can require an OT, making our role as diverse and unique as the clients we work so hard to help.

Occupational therapy is not just a profession but a lifeline for countless individuals. By demystifying the essential role OTs play in the allied health community, we can foster appreciation and awareness for all the amazing work that OTs do for people with varying needs and abilities.

About Erin Garner

Erin is an experienced occupational therapist who has worked across a range of health areas including public health, community practice and private practice. Erin’s clinical experience is predominately in the area of spinal cord injury, in both adult and paediatric settings. 

Erin has been involved in several research activities and publications, and holds a Master of Advanced Occupational Therapy, as well as a Master of Business Administration. Erin is the lead clinical expert at Occupational Therapy Australia, leading a team responsible for the provision of clinical oversight of professional practice for occupational therapists including practice scope and standards, and learning and development.

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