What Is An Occupational Therapist And What Do They Do?

Occupational therapists are science-based health care professionals who specialize in assessing and treating physical and physiological conditions enabling adults, children and in some cases babies to maximise their levels of independence in everyday life.

Often mistaken for something to do with career guidance or counselling, occupational therapy focuses on helping individuals with a physical, cognitive or sensory disability with the aim of enhancing their quality of life through setting functional goals such self-care, and independent living. 

Anyone, at any age, can benefit from occupational therapy if they are struggling or unable to participate in one or more activities. 

Who can benefit from occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is used when an adult or child is having difficulties with everyday tasks, for example, those with a medical condition,  learning disability or a mental health condition. They look at all aspects of life from the home, to school or even in the workplace. 

Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages with a wide range of conditions including those with:

  • sensory processing disorders
  • learning difficulties
  • developmental delays
  • autism
  • mental health or behavioural problems
  • multiple sclerosis
  • cerebral palsy
  • down syndrome
  • cancer
  • schizophrenia
  • depression
  • anxiety

Patients recovering from strokes, certain surgeries and the elderly can also benefit from occupational therapy.

What Is An Occupational Therapist And What Do They Do?
With occupational therapy, there is no one size all fits all.

How can an occupational therapist help?

With occupational therapy there is no one size all fits all - therapists will consider all of the patient's individual needs such as environmental, psychological, physical and social factors.

For example, if a child is struggling to focus or sit still an occupational therapist will explore why the child may move, fiddle or fidget before creating a sensory diet based on that child's specific needs with simple exercises to help them reach their full potential. The same applies to children with learning difficulties, developmental delays, sensory processing disorders and autism. 

With elderly people, occupational therapists will help overcome everyday challenges by making tasks like getting dressed, eating, bathing and using the toilet easier. Based on their abilities, therapists focus on what they can do rather than what they can't.

They may recommend crossword puzzles to improve strength and dexterity, they might recommend home modifications to prevent falls and instil confidence or they can help provide support for memory loss, help with vision loss or provide caregiver assistance. 

How do I access it?

Ask your GP or public health nurse for an HSE referral to see an occupational therapist, however, applications are prioritised according to needs. You can contact an Occupational Therapist directly in a private setting. 

Kellie Kearney

Kellie Kearney is a Dublin mammy of five kids aged newborn right up to nine. She loves coffee, cloth nappies, travel and sharing her every day true to life family moments on Instagram.

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