As an occupational therapist, I often find it easier to tell people what I don’t do rather than what I actually do. The most common misconception is that occupational therapy (OT) has something to do with career counseling. But in fact, the goal of OT is to help people gain or regain the ability to do the things that give their life meaning.
There are many reasons someone might need OT. People who have suffered injuries to their upper extremities such as a fracture or strokes, been in an accident, are recovering from surgery, suffer with carpal tunnel syndrome and work injuries, or are challenged by other issues that affect their daily living can all benefit from OT.
Depending upon the individual and their issue the goal of OT can vary from helping someone fully regain a skill or ability—say buttoning their shirt after breaking their wrist—or helping them learn how to live successfully with limitations—like those experienced after a stroke. Occupational therapists work to treat a specific body part or joint in order to help the patient full engage in their daily lives.
Because the needs of patients are so very unique to them, OTs develop individualized treatment plans for every client they see. The plan is developed based on the needs, interests, and abilities of the patients based on information gathered through conversation, assessments, and medical records. Plans frequently address a range of issues—muscle strength, flexibility, learning to use adaptive devices, etc.—and evolve over time as the patient progresses.
In many instances, the first focus is on performing basic personal skills—getting dressed, eating, bathing, and navigating the home safely. The focus then expands to include other tasks, like responsibilities of home, finding or returning to work, and so on.
Through it all, OTs work closely with the patient’s care and support team including physicians, other health care providers, and family members to make sure the treatment goals are realistic and meeting the patient’s current needs. Together, we work to build now just our patient’s abilities but their self-esteem and faith in themselves.
If you think you or someone you love could benefit from OT, call 802-447-5710.
Michaelia St. Jacques MS, OTR/L, CWCE, is occupational therapist now offering services at the SVMC Pownal Campus in Pownal, VT.