Role of the Occupational Therapist

role of the occupational therapist

The role of the occupational therapist is to enable people of all ages to participate in daily living. Occupational therapy intervention uses everyday life activities or occupations to promote health and well-being. It focuses on the things you want and need to do in your daily life. But what are occupations? Occupations are various kinds of life activities in which individuals, groups, or populations engage. Occupational therapy focuses on nine main occupations.

Role of the Occupational Therapist for Activities of Daily Living

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) – Activities oriented toward taking care of one’s own body. These activities are fundamental to living in a social world. They enable basic survival and well-being. They include bathing, toileting, dressing, swallowing/eating, feeding, functional mobility, personal device care, personal hygiene and grooming, and sexual activity.  

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) – Activities to support daily life within the home and community. These often require more complex interactions that those used in ADLs. These include care of others, care of pets, child rearing, communication management, driving and community mobility, financial management, health management and maintenance, home establishment and management, meal preparation and cleanup, religious and spiritual activities and expression, safety and emergency maintenance, and shopping. 

Other Roles of the Occupational Therapist

Health Management – Activities to help clients with chronic conditions maintain and improve performance in other occupations. These include symptom and condition management, medication management, and social and emotional health promotion and maintenance. It also includes communication with the healthcare system, personal device management, nutrition, and physical activity management. 

Rest and Sleep – Activities related to obtaining restorative rest and sleep to support healthy, active engagement in other occupations. These include rest, sleep preparation, and sleep participation. 

Education – Activities needed for learning and participating in the educational environment. These include formal and informal personal education participation. 

Work – Activities related to labor or exertion to make, construct, manufacture, form, fashion, or shape objects. These are committed occupations that are performed with or without financial reward. These include employment interests and pursuits, employment seeking and acquisition, job performance, retirement preparation and adjustment, volunteer exploration, and volunteer participation. 

Play – Activities related to any spontaneous or organized task that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement, or diversion. These include play exploration and play participation. 

Leisure – Activities that are non-obligatory that are intrinsically motivating and not time based. These include leisure exploration and leisure participation. 

Social Participation – Activities promoting involvement in a subset of occupations that involve social situations within community, family, peer or friend.  

What About a Child’s occupations?

For a child, their main occupations consist of eating, sleeping, toileting, learning, socializing, and arguably one of the most important childhood occupations, play. Play is the foundation for so much development. So, children are exposed to social interactions, praxis and multi-step tasks, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and self-regulation skills. Therefore, as occupational therapists, it is our job to help children build an adaptive response to an ever-changing environment by integrating skill into play. This becomes important for keeping a child engaged and for creating neural pathways in the brain through motivating activities.

Occupational therapy can help children and adults become more independent in occupations when there is a gap in skills needed to successfully complete these tasks. If any of these occupations are difficult to complete independently for you or your child, then an occupational therapist can help evaluate and assess those skills in greater depth. Occupational therapy can help people of all ages and abilities break down these daily tasks and build functional skills. Or, they can adapt the task itself so that people can be as independent as possible in these crucial activities we do every day. For more information visit Pathways or the OT Toolbox.