Monday, April 15, 2013
April is Occupational Therapy Month!
So What Is OT Anyway?
by: Kate LeFebvre OTR/L
A Community in Motion
I don’t think most college students are assigned the task of researching the definition of their major, nor is it common for the department to bring in a guest speaker to address just this topic. But when you’re studying occupational therapy, being able to explain what it is you do is incredibly important. I’ve had people ask, “That’s kind of like, PT, right?” and one who seemed to think I was studying to become a masseuse. Then there’s the infamous job coach confusion. But OT isn’t just physical, doesn’t typically use a lot of massage, and addresses far more than getting and keeping a job (note the common thread: each of these can be a component of occupational therapy).
So what did I find amongst the 22 definitions I unearthed, dated from 1910 to 2004? I found the vague, the wordy, the outdated. My own compilation was thus: “Occupational therapy is a profession concerned with promoting both physical and mental health and independent functioning in all individuals through the use of purposeful activity; its goal is to enhance participation in the occupations of daily life.” Raise your hand if you skimmed over that last sentence…. OT is – by definition – a huge and varied field, making it difficult to pin down in a specific, understandable way. To explain all of the profession would take longer than any audience cared to listen to.
So let’s move on to that guest speaker. Karen Jacobs, past president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, told my class that OT is about helping people to do what they want and need to do. That cuts right to the heart of the matter, now doesn’t it? Think about what you want and need to do. For me, I need to work, drive, cook, clean my apartment, complete self-care tasks like showering and brushing my teeth, use a computer; I want to read, work out, ski, sew, do jigsaw and crossword puzzles, make beaded jewelry, enjoy lazy summer days at my family’s camp. What if I, or you, couldn’t do some of those things? Millions of people around the world aren’t able to fully participate in their lives, to do the things that have meaning and purpose to them, perhaps due to injury, illness, disability, or major life changes. OT aims to fix that.
We work with everyone, from premature infants to older adults in hospice. We build and strengthen skills of the mind and the body. We enable. As a school-based therapist, OT to me means playing, writing, learning to focus, learning to learn (and so much more). What is it that you want and need to do? The answer to that question is what OT is all about.
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