A Beginner’s Guide to Occupational Therapy

In this post, we will review:




What is Occupational Therapy?


Describing the Occupational Therapy profession isn’t always a straightforward task. Occupational Therapy can look very different to an untrained eye depending on the medical setting and age of the client.


"Occupational therapy is a type of health care that helps to solve the problems that interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them" - Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapists work with people in many different settings. For example, Occupational Therapists work with children with disabilities to help them participate fully in school environments. Occupational Therapists also provide support for older adults experiencing cognitive and physical changes to help them gain functional skills.




Occupational therapy services include comprehensive evaluations of homes and other environments, including schools and workplaces, recommendations for adaptive devices and education and guidance for clients and their families.


"Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability." - American Occupational Therapy Association

How do Occupational Therapists help?


Occupational Therapists have many different interventions at their disposal. Carefully choosing beneficial interventions is a collaborative process between Therapists and clients. The following examples describe how Occupational Therapists may help their clients:

  • Help to overcome a disability by educating and coaching clients on how to improve or maintain abilities they already have

  • Recommend adaptive devices to use around the house or at work

  • Recommend changes to a client’s environment to minimize the negative impacts on function

  • Use a client-centred approach to help overcome barriers with performance and improve quality of life

  • Occupational Therapists may assess physical and mental abilities, social and emotional supports to help clients succeed in their goals


What is meant by “Occupations.”


According to the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy, occupations are “groups of activities and tasks of everyday life, named, organized, and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture. Occupations include everything that people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves (self-care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities” (CAOT, 2008).

Basically, occupations are the things people want to, need to and are expected to do. The difference between occupations and activities is well described in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.


“Activity and occupation are two core concepts of occupational therapy that are in need of differentiation. Occupation is defined here as a person’s personally constructed, one-time experience within a unique context. Activity is defined as a more general, culturally shared idea about a category of action” - American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2001.

Typically, occupations are grouped into three categories: self-care, productivity, and leisure.


Various Types of Occupations


Self-care Occupations

Self-care is a component of daily living and may include any activities you do to care for your mental, physical or emotional health. It typically includes lifestyle, nutrition, hygiene, socio-economic and environmental factors.

Productivity Occupations

Leisure Occupations




Where do Occupational Therapists work?


Occupational Therapists (OT) work in various settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, private practice, mental health, academia and others.


Some examples of Occupational Therapists roles include:


  • In hospital settings, OTs assess client/patient function in activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), transfers, functional mobility, splinting, perception, cognition, and mood. Assessments inform treatment plans that reflect client and family-centred goals. OTs work in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

  • In mental health settings, OTs assess, plan and provide treatment and support for individuals living with mental illness. OTs often use individual and group therapy interventions to help clients participate in daily activities as independently as possible.

  • In school settings, OTs assist children, their parents and teachers in developing many things such as taking care of themselves, playing sports, managing their school work, or developing a leisure interest/hobby. For students who have difficulty with motor skills tasks, an OT may help the teacher recommend environmental modifications to promote student success.

  • In long-term care settings, OTs work with clients who cannot independently complete ADLs and IADLs and require some level of assistance with daily functioning.

  • OTs working in a private practice setting may focus on hand therapy, pediatric therapy, driving assessments and interventions, and other specialized areas.


How to find an Occupational Therapist?


There are several ways to find an Occupational Therapist. The quickest and easiest method is to click here “Find a Therapist.” Alternatively, you could search for an Occupational Therapist using the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists search function located here (www.findanot.ca).



"Occupational therapy practitioners help people live life to its fullest-no matter what. They provide practical solutions for success in everyday living and help people alter how they arrange their daily activities to maximize function, vitality, and productivity.” - Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA