The 5 Ws of Occupational Therapy
Until you need occupational therapy, you might not even know what it is. That’s why, during Occupational Therapy Month, which is celebrated in April each year, I am reaching out to share a little bit about what the ten occupational therapists and six occupational therapy assistants who work at SVHC do every day. I hope that everyone will come away with an understanding of how occupational therapy improves lives.
Occupational therapy is an allied health profession performed by occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapists at SVHC and throughout the world are fortunate to work with people of all ages. We have a passion for helping people do the things they want and need to do. Common occupational therapy patients include children with disabilities who would like to participate fully in school and social situations, people recovering from injury who would like to regain skills, and older adults who would like to mitigate physical and cognitive changes. The patient is an integral part of the therapy team.
Occupational therapists focus on rehabilitating the patient in order to complete the tasks that are most important to them. OTs can take that process a step further by adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person.
Occupational therapy usually starts with a referral from a physician, followed by an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals. Customized interventions improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals. Finally, outcome evaluations ensure that the goals are being met. If not, we make changes to the intervention plan until the patient is able to accomplish what they would like. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science. While we sometimes use gym-type equipment or other exercises, we also use the activities themselves (the occupations, so to speak) to help people improve their functionality.
Occupational therapists work in many settings, including hospitals and long-term care facilities, outpatient rehabilitation and primary care offices, schools, and sometimes within people’s homes. Throughout the pandemic, we have been delivering therapy sessions to patients at home using telemedicine.
Any time we are needed, occupational therapists are there. At our outpatient setting, patients make an appointment just as they would for any other medical provider. Usually a series of appointments with some exercises and activities to be completed independently help people make the steady progress needed. In our hospital, if you are admitted with an illness that prevents you from fully completing your activities of daily living, you can expect that our OTs will be a part of your care team. Additionally, if you ever find yourself needing rehab at one of SVHC’s skilled nursing facilities, you will get to work hand in hand with our occupational therapy team. Together with our occupational therapists, patients build the strength and functionality they need to meet their goals.
The limitations imposed on us by disability, injury, or age can be overcome. We want everyone to feel empowered to push through challenges and to do things they had doubts they could. There is no greater satisfaction for the occupational therapist to see that they have helped someone toward a more full and fulfilling life.
To learn more about occupational therapy at SVHC, visit https://svhealthcare.org/services/rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.
Michaelia St. Jacques, OTR/L, is the outpatient rehab clinical manager and the Occupational Therapy team leader at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.