The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Occupational Therapy

Working in the occupational therapy field can be one of the most rewarding careers out there. You are constantly helping your patients improve their lives. However, like any other career, there is always some less-glamorous details that you should be aware of. Today our guest blogger shares the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of working in occupational therapy.

In any profession, there will be aspects you like, aspects you don’t like, and aspects you sometimes wish you did not have to do: the good, the bad, and the ugly. While I am extremely satisfied with my OT career, occupational therapy is no exception.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Occupational Therapy

Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of occupational therapy:

The Good

Most occupational therapists have an immense amount of job satisfaction almost every day. (I say almost every day because you will have the occasional bad or overwhelming day.) I leave work knowing I have made a significant difference in someone’s life. I know this because people are often emotional about their progress and people frequently tell me how happy they are that they came to therapy. As an occupational therapist, you have the opportunity to help people get their lives back when they cannot do it on their own.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that health care is a growing field and OTs have the ability to work anywhere. If you would like to stay local, you can. Or if you would like to travel and live across the country, you can do that too. There are jobs everywhere.

OTs can also work in a variety of settings: pediatric outpatient clinics, with the geriatric population in a skilled nursing facility, hospitals, adult outpatient clinics, school systems, or rehab facilities, to name a few. You have the ability as an occupational therapist to completely change your career at the drop of a hat by changing settings.

It is also a career with a steady paycheck where you can live comfortably.

The Bad

Sometimes you will be unable to help people, no matter how successful their surgery was, no matter how diligent the patient is with their exercises, no matter how frequently you see the patient each week. It is heart breaking when you, your patient, or patient’s family put in so much effort into therapy and you reach an obstacle you cannot overcome.

This could be irreparable nerve damage, excess scar tissue formation, lack of bone healing, pre-existing cardiac condition making them a poor surgical candidate, etc. People will often feel sad, confused, or discouraged.

A Heart-Breaking Situation

Helping a patient as an occupational therapist

Sometimes, you will be unable to help a patient, no matter how often you see them or how hard they try during therapy.

As an example, while I was working in a hospital, I was treating a gentleman who had suffered a stroke. His family was always in his room, very supportive, and I began to build a relationship with them. I was a familiar face and was going into his hospital room for daily treatments to help him with his recovery. The family felt comfortable asking me questions, confiding in me, and relied on me to help them understand the medical world that they were unfamiliar with.

The gentleman took a turn for the worse and, because his family had gotten to know me so well, turned to me for guidance. There was nothing I could do. The effects of the stroke were far too severe that therapy could not help him recover. He ended up passing away and his family was understandably devastated. It was a very difficult situation to be in as a therapist.

How to Handle Yourself

Sometimes, situations you find yourself in at work will hit very close to home. It is difficult but necessary to separate yourself emotionally from those situations. As a new therapist, this is more difficult. It takes practice to distance yourself and put your emotional well-being first.

The Ugly

There are some ugly and messy parts of occupational therapy. We often have to deal with bodily fluids and functions. As OTs working in inpatient settings, we often teach people how to perform toileting again. This is not very glamorous at times. People often have trouble with wiping themselves and you will need to assist them. It can be a dirty job, but I guess somebody has to do it.

After surgery, people are frequently nauseous. I have had to hold buckets or trash cans for patients to vomit in. When patients do not feel well, they can be grumpy or in bad moods. You absolutely should not take it personally. Put yourself in their shoes and take their comments or denial to fully participate in therapy with a grain of salt.

In my current job as an outpatient therapist, I deal with a lot of wound care. This includes wound packing, cleaning discharge from wounds that are infected, removing dying tissue (that sometimes doesn’t smell the best), and dealing with blood. I find wound care interesting and a welcomed challenge, but for many, this in an “ugly” aspect of OT.

If you’re looking to become an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant, it’s important to know and anticipate these “ugly” types of situations. But if you can stomach through it, you’ll leave at the end of the day knowing you’ve made a difference.

Although not every aspect of working as an OTA is perfect or pristine, the rewards of working in this field far outpace the demands. If you want to learn more about becoming an occupational therapy assistant in California or Virginia, contact an admissions advisor today.

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