What is Occupational Therapy?

Maybe your child has just been referred for occupational therapy services by their pediatrician, early interventionist, speech language pathologist, or teacher. Or maybe you’ve seen an occupational therapist playing games and doing crafts and you’re wondering, just what is occupational therapy (OT)?

While it has been a profession since the early 1900s, I have found in my own practice that many people still have questions as to what OT is. Some people equate it to physical therapy, while others simply recognize it as part of a medical, rehabilitation, or special education team without fully understanding its complexities. Over the course of my two years in OT school I culminated the following definition:

Occupational Therapy is the practice of promoting an individuals’ physical, mental, and social well-being in order to increase their quality of life and participation in the roles and occupations they find meaningful.

The overarching theme of occupational therapy is a holistic and client-centered approach, tailored to each specific individual. To do this, an OT creates an occupational profile of the individual by taking note of the roles, interests, hobbies, and occupations that are important to them. OTs then performs evaluations, both standardized and informal, and implement intervention strategies with the goal of improving or maintaining the individual’s quality of life.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, “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” (AOTA).

-Glenna Nave, M.S., OTR/L


“What Is Occupational Therapy?”Aota.org, 2020, www.aota.org/Conference-Events/OTMonth/what-is-OT.aspx.