Occupational therapy improves the ability of individuals, communities, and populations to access and participate in the activities they want, need, and are expected to do each day, whether for survival or for flourishing.
The name of the profession, occupational therapy, was apt at the time the field was founded in the late 19th century before the word occupation became associated with job, career, or work. At that time, occupations referred to anything with which one was occupied. In the asylums of the day, where occupational therapy was first practiced, staff discovered that patients improved when they were given meaningful things to do with their time; they improved when they were occupied. The profession’s founders thus adopted the name, occupational therapy, or therapy through being meaningfully occupied[.
In contemporary occupational therapy, the activities with which people occupy time are still referred to as occupations. Examples of occupations include obtaining food; preparing, eating, and sharing meals; bathing, grooming, obtaining clothing, and getting dressed; taking care of others; preparing for and engaging in work; socializing; participating in education; participating in recreation, leisure, and hobbies; meditating; engaging in religious activities; volunteering; and sleeping.
Through doing occupations, people meet survival needs, use and develop their capacities, engage with others, discover and express their identities, contribute to their families and communities, and shape the world physically, aesthetically, socially, culturally, and politically. In other words, the occupations people do each day contribute to factors associated with individual and societal health, well-being, and development. When everyday activities of living are disrupted or not available, even temporarily, people are separated from a key source of health and flourishing and thus can experience ill or poor health and diminishment of quality of life.
Therefore, being meaningfully occupied is a basic human need and right, and it is the basic mechanism of health that occupational therapists address.
Who receives Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapists work with individuals across the lifespan, as well as families, communities and populations who are in situations that limit their access to and participation in necessary and desired occupations. The graphic below looks at conditions that disrupt participation in occupations. Occupational therapy may be beneficial for people experiencing these conditions and/or life transitions.
Where Are Occupational Therapists Employed?
Given the broad range of populations with whom occupational therapists work, the settings in which they work are also broad. The graphic below presents sample settings where therapists work. Across these settings, occupational therapists work collaboratively with clients. They serve as direct care providers, consultants, administrators, entrepreneurs, educators, program developers and evaluators, and policy consultants. Therapists collaborate with a variety of interprofessional team members including physicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, nurses, social workers, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, entrepreneurs, and designers such as clothing designers, interior designers, engineers, architects, and city planners.