What is occupational therapy?

What Can Occupational Therapy Do For You? - American Occupational Therapy Association (2017)

In short: Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that aims to empower individuals by addressing physical, psychosocial, and environmental factors to increase independence and successful participation in activities that they want, need, or are required to do.


Detailed  Description

Occupational therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that uses selected activity to prevent and overcome many physical, emotional or social disabilities in individuals of all ages. OT promotes health of individuals by preventing, restoring, or improving quality of life with injury, illness, or disability. OT is a profession that teaches, maintains, and promotes competent behavior in the areas of daily living. The overall goal is to assist individuals in living life to the fullest.

OTs evaluate the physical, psychosocial and environmental factors which reduce an individual's ability to participate in everyday activities of occupation. Common factors include the following:

  • Motor (Ex. Psychomotor activity)

  • Sensory (Ex. Sensitivities, Delusions, Hallucinations)

  • Cognitive (Ex. Decision making, Problem-solving, Memory)

  • Self-care (Ex. Basic and Instrumental activities of daily living)

  • Intrapersonal (Ex. Self-concept, Feelings)

  • Interpersonal (Ex. Socialization, Communication)

  • Productivity (Ex. Work, Job, Education)

  • Leisure (Ex. Interests, Enjoyable activities)

Therapeutic objectives are achieved through techniques or activities which are designed to:

  • Facilitate learning skills and function essential for adaptation to the environment

  • Restore/Reinforce functional capacity

  • Decrease and control pathology

  • Promote and maintain health

​OTs work in several different settings such as:

  • Inpatient (acute)
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Community centers
  • Home health 
  • Long-term acute care
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Schools
  • Psychiatric centers
  • Academia
  • Research
  • ... and more!

Summary of the OT  Practice Framework

The OT Practice framework is a document created by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) that outlines and summarizes OT practice to inform OTs, educators, researchers, payors, other health professionals, students, and consumers (AOTA, 2014).


  • Activities of Daily Living: Bathing; Dressing; Toileting; Swallowing/Eating; Feeding; Functional Mobility; Personal device care; Hygiene and grooming; Sexual activity
  • Instrumental Activities of Daily Living: Home establishment and management; Meal preparation; Religious and spiritual activities and expression; Safety and emergency maintenance; Shopping
  • Rest/Sleep: Rest; Sleep preparation; Sleep participation
  • Education
  • Work: Interests and pursuits; Seeking and acquisition; Job Performance; Retirement preparation and adjustment; Volunteer exploration and participation
  • Play
  • Leisure
  • Social Participation: Community; Family; Peer, friend

Client Factors

  • Values, beliefs, and spirituality
  • Body functions
  • Body structures

Performance Skills

  • Sensory perceptual skills
  • Motor and praxis skills
  • Emotional regulation skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication and social skills

Performance Patterns

  • Habits
  • Routine
  • Roles
  • Ritual

Context and Environment

  • Cultural
  • Personal
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Temporal
  • Virtual

Activity Demands

  • Objects used and their properties
  • Space demands
  • Social demands
  • Sequencing and timing
  • Required actions
  • Required body functions and structures

(AOTA, 2014)

Significance of Occupation

Occupations are fundamental to an individual's health and overall well-being due to them providing meaning, identity, and structure to people's lives while reflecting society's culture and values (Whiteford, 2004). Through participation in occupations, individuals acquire competencies and skills, find purpose and meaning in life, and connect with others and their communities, which leads to a sense of competence and life satisfaction (Law, 2002). In essence, participation in occupations is an individual's unique contribution to the world. Having limitations with the ability to participate in meaningful occupations attributes to compromises in health, well-being, and social integration (Glass et al., 2006).