Guest Column: Occupational therapy touches nearly all parts of life

Date Published: 
August 1, 2014

Being a local of the Eastern Shore beaches for my entire life, it is only destiny I return back to my hometown to find a job once I complete a master’s degree program in occupational therapy.

I temporarily have relocated to Baltimore City for a couple of years in order to pursue my dream of becoming an occupational therapist. My choices for schools were slim and directed me to Baltimore, because Towson University’s occupational therapy program is the only accredited program within all of Delaware and Maryland.

Many people, especially from the rural areas of Sussex County, continuously ask me the question, “What is occupational therapy?” Occupational therapy is a habilitative and rehabilitation profession aimed at enabling people to live life to its fullest despite injury, illness, health condition, disability, or environmental conditions.

Occupational therapy, or OT for short, uses the term “occupation” to represent any everyday activity that one finds purposeful for everyday life and overall wellbeing. Participating in these occupations is the overarching focus of treatment, with the client working alongside the therapist to develop and work through client-centered, meaningful goals.

The process begins with an evaluation. The evaluation helps the occupational therapist grasp an overall understanding of the person through consideration of values, beliefs, physical functioning, cognitive skills, emotional skills, social skills and the environment in which it all takes place.

Although this is not an extensive list, basically, occupational therapists’ consider any factors that contribute to the person leading an independent, satisfying and productive life.

The evaluation leads into a customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach goals. Some examples of interventions include helping children with disabilities participate in school, helping people regain skills after suffering from an injury and providing adaptive skills for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

The next step is an outcomes evaluation, to ensure goals are being met and skills required for the job of living are improving.

The classes I take during the program deal with children, adults, the elderly population and the overall healthcare system in the U.S.

For example, one class deals with the psychological process of aging, beginning at birth and continuing throughout the lifespan, and covering topics about normal developmental milestone, the effects of what may happen if someone deviates away from the norm, and how we as therapists can reach client-decided goals to improve everyday functioning for these individuals.

Another class is about the functions taking place in our brain and spinal cord in order for the brain to communicate with the rest of our body. This class helps to grasp an overall understanding of what happens to someone when they suffer from a spinal cord or brain injury.

As you can see from the diversity of classes, occupational therapists’ scope of practice is extensive and covers a considerable amount of topics. Although it may make explaining the profession difficult, it gives practitioners an infinite array of knowledge once entering the profession and does not limit us to one setting or particular area of interest.

Consider this scenario: A 65-year-old woman has just suffered a stroke and wishes to participate in the occupations she once enjoyed, such as cooking, but does not have the strength or endurance to navigate and reach for things throughout the kitchen as she did prior to the stroke.

The OT would hold the treatment session in a kitchen, to ensure the most realistic setting. During the session, the OT may have the client perform duties that would be required when prepping a meal, such as reaching for a can of soup, or grabbing a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator.

In this sense, the client is working toward improving strength and endurance, but in a much more meaningful and personal way than simply lifting weights to build strength.

Remember, this is just one scenario. The occupational therapy scope of practice covers an extensive array of clients, environments and areas of occupations. So the next time you are considering reaching out to therapy services, consider occupational therapy, and I promise you will not be sorry.

Tara Edwards is a graduate student seeking a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Towson University. She was born and raised in Selbyville.