What is occupational therapy (OT)?

Most of us are familiar with the term “occupational therapy” (OT), but few of us know what it can really do for us or the people in our lives. From helping children with disabilities participate in school to providing support for older adults experiencing age-related changes, here’s what you need to know about OT.

What is occupational therapy?

First, occupational therapy isn’t related to an “occupation” in terms of a job. It’s about everyday activities that “occupy” your time and offer therapeutic benefits. OT professionals help people participate in the daily activities they want and need to do. If you have pain, injury, illness, or a disability that makes it hard for you to do your job, go to school, care for yourself, move around or interact socially, OT may be able to help.

Put simply, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), OT asks the question: “What matters to you?” rather than “What’s the matter with you?”

What are occupations?

Occupations are often goal-directed, task-oriented, purposeful or community-oriented. They’re customized to take into account a person’s values, goals and environment. Support can include everything from helping someone recover from a traumatic brain injury to finding creative ways to teach children how to read.

What steps does occupational therapy typically include?

  • Evaluation: Client, family and therapist determine goals
  • Intervention: A plan is customized to improve the person’s ability to perform activities
  • Outcomes evaluation: Evaluation ensures goals are being met and makes changes if they’re not

An occupational therapist may also evaluate a client’s home, workplace or school and recommend adaptive equipment or education for family members and caregivers. The focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and on making sure the person acts as a key part of their own therapeutic team.

What is occupational therapy used for most often?

The scope of OT is huge and can be applied at any stage of life, but typically falls into these categories:

  • Children and youth
  • Health and wellness
  • Mental health
  • Productive aging
  • Rehabilitation and disability
  • Work and industry

Within those categories, here are some specific examples of things OT can do:

  • Help older adults find ways to cook, clean or perform daily activities safely, particularly after age-related changes (fall, stroke, mental change)
  • Develop the skills to help someone eat, bathe and get dressed on their own
  • Find ways for a person to work effectively at school or their job, and to move around comfortably while there
  • Make sure all people can take part in leisure activities, particularly if it means customizing activities or equipment
  • Help people with low vision navigate their environments safely
  • Aid in the management of conditions such as anxiety, depression or autism
  • Prevent bullying in schools

If you think OT might be able to help you or someone in your life, visit the AOTA website to learn more. To find an occupational therapist here in Tennessee, click here.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access primary, specialty (including OT) and behavioral health care services via virtual visits with in-network providers.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).