Occupational Therapy 101

Occupational Therapy

What comes to mind when you hear this?

Common responses might include some of the following (which are often based on a best guess from the sound of the word “occupation” or from one single interaction with someone who has had an OT before):

– ummm..same as physiotherapy right? 

– safety assessments and ergonomics in the workplace

– helping people to find jobs!

– teaching kids to print?

– getting Grandma a raised toilet seat.

As Occupational Therapists, Jade and I often struggle with how to fully explain the breadth of OT and how much is involved with what we DO. One of the first (and most challenging) lessons of our OT schooling is developing your “elevator speech”. How you will describe what you do in 30 seconds….believe me, it’s darn near impossible! We tend to cater our response based on who’s asking. I mean, it takes us two whole years in school and many more years of experience to truly understand the meaning of the word “occupation” alone…how can we expect others to “get” what we do without understanding the core concept of our profession!?

Occupation: Everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to and are expected to do!

Got it? (it’s ok if you don’t…).

Occupations generally fall into three categories: SELF-CARE (bathing, toileting, grooming, feeding, etc.), PRODUCTIVITY (work for adults, play for children, volunteerism, etc.), and LEISURE (recreational activities, hobbies, sports, etc.).

Our role? To ENABLE people to DO any of these things!! (Sounds pretty tough right?). So it’s true…we actually DO do most of the things I listed above, but also SO MUCH MORE!

Here’s a few QUICK tips to introduce you to Occupational Therapy.

Who We Are:


*We are a “master of all trades”, finding creative solutions to unique problems

*We have completed a two year MASTER’s Degree in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, following our four years in undergrad (studying health sciences and kinesiology).

*We have knowledge about anatomy, neuroscience, development, mental health, and much more…

Where We Work:

Anywhere!! OT’s may be found in hospitals, clinics and schools, but we also work in the community, in people’s homes, and anywhere where people are LIVING THEIR LIVES!

Who We Work With:

Anyone!! Based on our experience and training we have knowledge of MANY health issues (both physical and cognitive), but the purpose of our profession is not specific to a certain disorder, it’s based around enabling people to participate fully in their everyday lives, so ANYONE could benefit from Occupational Therapy at some point in their lives.

What We Do:

žOccupational therapy is the art and science of enabling engagement in everyday living, through occupation; of enabling people to perform the occupations that foster health and well-being; and of enabling a just and inclusive society so that all people may participate to their potential in the daily occupations of life (Townsend& Polatajko, 2007, p. 372).

How We Do It:

*through assessment (observational, standardized, etc.) & treatment (can include consultation, direct treatment, 1:1 or group, etc.)

*through TASK-ANALYSIS and identification of barriers in the PERSON, ENVIRONMENT, OR OCCUPATION factors

*through use of the OT ENABLEMENT SKILLS: Adapt, Advocate, Coach, Collaborate, Consult, Coordinate, Design/Build, Educate, Engage, Specialize


Sounds like a lot right? This is just the start…

The amazing breadth and diversity of our knowledge and skills could be considered both our greatest assets as well as our biggest challenge. When you look at how much goes into our role in teaching and co-ordinating Dance Ability classes…it’s no wonder families and students continue to comment on the quality of our classes and how much their child succeeds in Dance Ability.

For us, watching our dancers PARTICIPATE fully in their community, and reach their own unique POTENTIALS is our very own dream come true.

When you really delve into it….OT’s are pretty amazing…and believe us, it is a highly challenging, interesting, ever-changing, but most of all, REWARDING career.

We were fortunate to be published in a section of the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy’s special edition of OT Now Magazine for March/April. Members of CAOT can check out more about Dance Ability as one of the Snapshots of “Visions of Possibility” on page 27.

We are working towards establishing Dance Ability as an Occupational Therapy program (although it is currently classified as a DANCE class – which happens to be taught by two OT’s; we are realizing how much it really does involve our OT skills).

Thanks for reading, please share ONE thing you learned about Occupational Therapy (OT) with a friend today 🙂

For more information you can check out the following:

College of Occupational Therapist’s of Ontario – https://www.coto.org/

Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists – http://www.osot.on.ca/eng/default.asp

Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists – http://www.caot.ca/

What is OT?


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1 Response to Occupational Therapy 101

  1. Pingback: Using Your Occupational Therapy “Elevator Speech” to Effectively ELEVATE Understanding of the Profession! | Gotta Be OT

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