AUTHOR: Sally Payne and Lauren Walker, Royal College of Occupational Therapists
1. Occupational therapy is the same as occupational health.
This is a common misconception, not least because some occupational therapists do work in the areas of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation. But it is a separate profession and occupational therapy is not just about your job or your work.
For us ‘occupation’ means anything you are engaged in, or do, on any given day. It's our job to help people overcome the challenges they face in any particular occupation ie, learning to live independently.
2. Occupational therapy is the same as physiotherapy
We often work alongside physiotherapists and we have a complementary skill set but physiotherapists put more focus on the mechanical aspects of the body while occupational therapists consider how injuries and impairments affect a person’s ability to take part in daily life, and the occupations that matter to them.
At the core of our approach is a biopsychosocial model which recognises that the experience of pain or challenge is influenced by biological, psychological, and social elements. An OT cannot assume that the right solution for one person will be the right one for the next person with the same condition.
3. Occupational therapy is mostly about organising rails and equipment
Although we do organise equipment for people to help them, that’s probably only about 10% of the job. Our starting point is to understand a person’s everyday activities, roles and routines.
What can they do well? What makes life difficult? What motivates them or interests them? How do they currently go about looking after themselves? Does that change depending on where they are? If so, why?
Then we start to unpick the reasons for some of these things - has there been an injury in the past? Has there been a lack of opportunity or societal barriers that have had an impact?
What role is confidence and mental health playing in all of this? We work with the person to understand the core problems and to come up with plans and strategies that will help them overcome their challenges.
OTs have a broad knowledge and skills base across anatomy, mental health, psychology and communication and a ‘bag of tools’ to help discover the source of problems.
4. Occupational therapists only work with old people
Occupational therapists work across the life-span from perinatal services through to geriatric and palliative care. Occupational therapists play an important role in rehabilitation after injury, illness or trauma.
They also work with children and adults with mental health challenges, disabilities, learning difficulties, chronic pain and health conditions and marginalised populations such as those who are homeless, in prison, refugees or children excluded from school.
5. Occupational therapists only work in hospitals
Just as the range of people OTs work with is vast, so are the places and teams where they will work. Occupational therapists can work in acute settings such as hospitals but may also work in community teams, GP surgeries, housing teams, schools, prisons, charities, councils or workplaces.
An increasing number are also setting up private practices or entrepreneurial businesses using their OT skills for a wide variety of purposes such as helping people access nature or physical and leisure activities.
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