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An In-depth Look Into The Definition Of Occupational Therapy: Everything You Need To Know.

Updated: Apr 1

Where did occupational therapy (OT) come from?

Before we dive into the definition of Occupational Therapy, I would like to shed some light on the profession's beginnings. Most disciplines have been in existence for a long time and have progressed over centuries. OT is one of the more recent professions but has been around for a little over a century in the United States. OT emerged amid the moral treatment era in the 1790s. Moral treatment was an approach to treat those with mental illness. Phillipe Pinel, a French physician, and William Tuke, an English Quaker, developed the treatment. Both men believed in the humane treatment of people with mental health issues. Pinel advocated for the use of meaningful occupations to address emotions, thus improving performance in activities of daily living. You can further read about the moral treatment at Strategies for Better Functioning, LLC. History of Occupational Therapy |


In the 1800s, America integrated the moral treatment approach in hospitals by using arts and crafts to engage clients to promote relaxation and productivity. However, during World War 1 and 2, there was a shift from the use of arts and crafts to increased use of daily living activities to return wounded soldiers to independence. William Rush Dunton Jr., a psychiatrist, and educator

formed The National Society to promote Occupational Therapy (now known as AOTA). William, also known as "the father of occupational therapy," stressed the importance of using daily activities for treatment. Check out myotspot.com/history-of-occupational-therapy/

for more detailed historical information.

Providers continued to treat people using activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). In the 1900s, the profession started to be recognized and needed, leading to formal education. Eleanor Clark Slagle, "the mother of occupational therapy," is credited for creating the first education program. Professional organizations were already underway to further research and provide support for practitioners.



Occupational therapy definition

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a health profession intended to help people do all they need to do, are required to do, and want to do to get through their day. OTs offer consultation, direct skills training, and education. The term "occupation" refers to the daily activities we purposefully

engage in that are meaningful to us.

Activities and areas of occupation include:

(1) Self-care tasks such as bathing, feeding, showering, getting around, and so on.

(2) Productive roles taking place

  • at home and in the community - such as home management, food preparation, shopping, taking care of children and pets, money management, driving, and safety

  • at school - homework, assignments, and extracurricular activities

  • at work - pursuing and maintaining employment, volunteer work, and preparing for retirement

(3) Pursuing interests, participating in leisure activities such as hobbies, and socializing

(4) Sleep or rest

(5) And finally, health management or our ability to manage our health is paramount to being able to engage in any activity

Information obtained from the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process Fourth Edition.



Where can you find OT?

Occupational therapists provide services in various settings across lifespans and ages. The service delivery within settings can be a medical model, educational model, or community model. Adult to geriatric-specific settings include adult day programs, skilled nursing homes, independent and assisted living facilities, and workplace rehabilitation.


Pediatric-specific based settings include the neonatal unit, early intervention (home-based or educational for 0-3 years old), school-based, and prevocational programs. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, private clinics, home-based, home health, the mental health community, health and wellness, transition or residential programs, academic & research, and hospice settings address pediatric and adult populations. These settings focus on educating and helping the clients or patients improve, regain or develop skills for daily functional and meaningful living.


clients or patients include:

- People who have experienced physical trauma

- People who want to work on health and wellness

- People who could benefit from mental health treatment and prevention services

- Seniors

- Children or youth with developmental delays, autism, genetic syndromes, ADHD, learning disorders, praxis/motor planning deficits, anxiety, etc. BrainWings, LLC serves youth exclusively for OT and wellness services

- Adults in workplaces



What happens in Occupational Therapy?

OT helps people carry out daily activities that are important and meaningful to them. Interventions can include one-on-one or group training, modification of the environment, compensatory techniques or strategies, the use of adaptive equipment, and education/consultation services for prevention and to improve independence and success.


In one-on-one or group training, OTs use different levels of therapeutic activity.

(1) Preparatory - exercise or use of modalities, e.g., using a swiss ball for arm range of motion and electrical stimulation, (2) Purposeful -activity mimicking the occupation such as stacking plates by size or using tweezers to pick up plastic letters, and (3) Occupation-based - the actual daily task such as organizing glasses and plates into a kitchen shelf or writing with a pencil. The use of compensatory strategies, adaptive equipment, and modifications come in handy. The end goal is always to engage the client/patient in occupation-based activities or the therapeutic use of daily activities to improve their functional independence. Occupational therapy focuses on improving daily living skills if they are weak, developing delayed skills, helping regain skills if one is injured, or providing education and strategies to promote health and prevent impairment.



What can I expect during the occupational therapy process?

There are two ways in which the client can start the process. When a question arises about whether an individual might benefit from services, an OT completes a screen to determine if an OT evaluation is warranted. Other professionals can identify deficits and make a referral. Before the intervention, you should expect an assessment to review your health history and discuss your abilities, limitations, and goals. With the client, family/parent, or caregiver input, therapy uses all the information gathered to create a custom plan to help you reach your goals.

The process might consider other professional evaluations, e.g., psychological findings, speech therapy findings, visual or hearing exams, etc.


During treatment, the OT continues to evaluate, notes progress or lack thereof, and goals are modified or discontinued as needed. As the patient progresses, there is ongoing discharge planning. When the client meets goals, discharge occurs.


In conclusion, OT strives to promote health and well-being

by easing participation and performance in daily activities meaningful to an individual. Hopefully, this article has helped simplify the definition of occupational therapy.

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