Occupational therapy is a holistic profession. It helps people of all ages achieve their goals of being able to participate in the things they want and/or need to be able to do on a daily basis, which we call “occupations”. These occupation-based goals are met through a variety of ways, including through the therapeutic use of meaningful, everyday activities. So occupation, then, can be both the intervention AND outcome of therapy.
Occupational therapy practitioners work with individuals of all ages, from the first day to last day of life. We work with those who are recovering from disability and disease, those who are working to overcome mental health challenges, those who need support with healthy living and lifestyle changes, and those who are experiencing barriers to being able to fully participate in the physical or social-emotional aspects of their workplace.
When it comes right down to it, the primary, overarching purpose of any occupational therapy service or intervention is to improve a person’s ability to participate in their daily occupations. Those activities they want or need to be able to complete on a daily basis. Learning or re-learning how to get dressed, self-feed, or bathe. Learning how to play with friends while maintaining appropriate physical or emotional participation. Learning how to drive again after a life-altering injury. Figuring out how to stay focused or organized enough to keep up at school.
These are all “occupations”. And occupational therapy practitioners care about all of them.
There are tons of great things about being an occupational therapist. But what are the very best things about being an OT?
Here are my 5 favorite things about being an occupational therapist:
1. Progress. Seeing progress, no matter how big or small, is quite possibly the most thrilling part of working as an OT. Sometimes the tiniest baby steps of progress are truly the most exciting. Like the first time a child puts on her sock all by herself. Or the first time a parent has an “AHA!” moment as it relates to his or her child’s sensory needs. Or the first time a parent shares with you they were actually able to take their child to the grocery store or the park or a birthday party without experiencing a meltdown. Or the first time a teacher witnesses a student being able to cut with scissors or sit for all of circle time instead of wandering around the room. Hooray! Progress happens in both the children we work with as well as in the parents and teachers who support them. It’s awesome!
2. Making a Difference. As an OT, I don’t just see progress. I am a part of the progress. And that is one of the best feelings in the world. When families share success stories with me after trying out strategies and suggestions we have discussed or practiced in therapy…wow. Just wow. And it’s not just like they are telling me about it to try and make me feel good. They are really, truly excited by the success, and they want to share it with me, their OT, because I was a part of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, life as an OT is not filled with a continual stream of beaming successes. It’s not always glamorous! But when I can finish a work day knowing I was able to make a difference in the life of at least one parent, teacher, and/or child, it reminds me of why I fell in love with OT in the first place.
3. Having a Blend of Creativity and Science. When I was in OT school, I discovered that occupational therapy is both an art and a science. And as I progress in my career as a practitioner, I can say with confidence that that is absolutely true. Occupational therapy allows therapists to utilize their creative thinking skills while also relying on their knowledge of science, development, and the body/brain to be effective in their role as an OT. While some settings allow for more creativity than others (pediatrics being one of them), all rely on a therapist’s ability to craft and implement individualized approaches to help clients reach their goals.
4. Addressing the Whole Person. I am the type of person who is constantly switching between zooming in on the tiny details and zooming out to see the big picture. The whole person. The whole situation. Because improved participation in “occupation” is pretty much always the end goal in occupational therapy, we have the privilege of being able to address the whole person when looking at what barriers are currently preventing them from being able to fully participate. Is it physical factors? Cognitive factors? Social-emotional factors? Lack of motivation? Lack of social or family support? Environmental factors? Issues with the occupation itself? Once we consider the whole person, we are better able to support clients in making progress toward their goals.
5. Helps Me Be a Better Parent. Working as a pediatric OT has helped me learn so many helpful things that I am able to carry over into my parenting. Though I try my best not to “therapize” my own children (as we therapists may often be tempted to do), I have learned that many strategies and approaches meant for supporting kids labeled with special needs are actually also great for kids who have not been labeled with special needs. In addition to the actual strategies I have learned from being on-the-job, I find that life as a pediatric occupational therapist who works with parents and other developmental professionals simply exposes to me to LOTS more opinions and approaches related to parenting and supporting children. I feel privileged that I have been exposed to so much information in the various pediatric settings I have worked in, as it has helped shape me as a parent and motivate me to continue to develop my parenting skills so I can be the best mommy possible for my kids.
April is OT Month, which makes this a great time to share what we love about occupational therapy!
What do you love about OT?
P.S. — If you want to learn more about how to become an occupational therapist, or are wondering what it’s like to be an OT, then you’ll be excited to hear that a fellow OT blogger and I have released a FREE e-book to help you figure out if OT is the profession for you!