Occupational Therapy

A Guide for Individuals and Professionals


What does an Occupational Therapist do?

OTs use activities as therapeutic tools to promote health and wellbeing.

The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT)2012 define OT as the following:

“Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement.”

In a nut shell, OTs use activities to improve health and wellbeing. They work with all age groups and understand the concept of human occupation and behaviour. They understand activities, human function and the impact of the environment on individual abilities. OTs are interested in someone’s ability to participate and perform activities.

Our intervention is client centred, where the person is always central to the rehabilitation programme. An individual’s medical diagnosis is used to guide our intervention and, ultimately, can influence the OTs speciality, as in the case of a neuro OT. However, fundamentally the intervention we provide as therapists is underpinned by some key principles.

OTs consider:

  • Occupation: they use day-to-day activities to improve health, wellbeing and abilities.

  • Participation: they facilitate participation in activities regardless of disability.

  • Doing: they focus on the person, specifically what they ‘want to do, need to do, expect to do’ taking into account our uniqueness, our choices and our responsibilities.

  • Modification: they adopt a problem-solving approach, looking at current function, reviewing where the limitations lie and then looking to modify the activity or the environment.

 It doesn't matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go

Bob Proctor

Occupational Therapy and working with individuals

Putting occupational therapy theory into context is important to help us understand what an OT does.

Spend a few moments thinking about how you spend your time; think about a person that you enjoy spending time with. Try to think broadly, this could include your significant other, family, friend or an animal etc. Reflect on the activities you do with or for this person.

Think about yourself; think about an activity you love to do or something you feel accomplished at. Reflect on your life within the context of the activities you complete every day. Think about how you define yourself, who you are and how you view yourself and your abilities.

These factors are what an OT would also consider as part of their initial assessment.

 It is about understanding life after illness or injury with all its light and shade - not being afraid to tackle it head on and being open to change. We are here to help our clients recognise who they really are; what they could be and should be.

Jo Throp

Human function and engagement in activities from the view point of an Occupational Therapist

Our relationships with others are related to the roles we have and hold as part of our day-to-day life. Roles are important as they give us meaning and purpose. Relationships with others gives us structure to our week, provides a social outlet or work activity and relates closely to how we spend our time.

The activities we do on a day-to-day basis are important. We do activities that make us feel good, like leisure and recreational activities, but more important are those activities relating to self-care. Personal care activities and domestic tasks are activities we have to do to look after ourselves, our home and possibly other people and / or pets.

We set up our environment to facilitate these activities and adopt roles that work for us and other people. We arrange and have access to homes, spaces, facilities and equipment. We structure the social environment to support us in achieving our goals, managing, relating and adapting to the expectations we place upon ourselves and those of others. We utilise our financial capability to allow us to access opportunities and structure the occupational environment to promote success with daily activities through routines, responsibilities and relationships.

The final element of human function is about how we view ourselves. This is really important and is grounded in our self-identify. Our self-identity feeds into how we view ourselves and is related to our confidence and competence. Social acceptance and the view of others is equally as important.

Medicine adds days to life, Occupational Therapy adds life to days.


Neurological disability and the Neuro OT

Neuro OTs work with individuals who have sustained life-changing injuries. Living with an acquired brain injury can have a profound impact on an individual’s ability to engage in daily activities.

The practicalities of completing an activity can be very difficult for someone with additional physical needs. This type of disability is visibly present and it is clear where the challenges lie. All of a sudden, the environment that an individual previously accessed to complete a wide number of activities, presents itself with barriers to independence.  

Hidden disabilities in the form of cognitive and executive limitations, fatigue, sensory limitations and psychological consequences of an injury are not so easy to see or understand. These challenges can be equally as disabling, ranging from an inability to understand, organise or plan activities to suffering from overwhelming fatigue.

The psychosocial elements of living with a disability must not be ignored. Consideration must be given to the impact of a disability on how you view yourself and how others view you, including the consequences, hidden or otherwise on interpersonal relationships.

Many survivors of brain injury and individuals with long term neurological conditions are working hard to adjust to their new-found self. The role of a skilled neuro OT is to help them do this.

Further reading

From the history of our profession to the current practice of it you can find out all you need to know here...

The History of OT

The History of OT

Occupational therapy – the history of the profession Occupational Therapy is a little-known profession; many Occupational Therapists (OT) will spend their whole career introducing themselves to non-medical people as an OT and will, more often than not, receive a blank response.
Neuro OT in Context

Neuro OT in Context

OTs use activities to improve health and wellbeing, they work with all age groups and understand the concept of human occupation and behaviour, they understand activities, human function and the impact of the environment on individual abilities. Let’s put this theory into some context.
Neuro OT in Practice

Neuro OT in Practice

Effective rehabilitation and, specifically, Neuro OT are only beneficial if time has been taken to understand the person before commencing rehabilitation. Understanding an individual’s values, motivators and aspirations are an essential foundation to effective outcomes.
Our Blog and News feed

Our Blog and News feed

Our blog is full of interesting reads and the news feed is full of relevant information, awards and competition winners. We are passionate about occupational therapy and neurological rehabilitation. ‘Talking heads’ is a means of bringing together individuals and professionals interested in brain injury.