What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists (OT) provide rehabilitative services to individuals with mental, physical or developmental impairments. Whether someone has trouble performing day-to-day activities due to an illness, injury or disability, occupational therapy is about teaching people how to work within their limitations so they can live as independently as possible.

student helping older man with stretch bands

The rehabilitation process starts with the occupational therapist assessing the client and creating a highly individualized treatment plan. The occupational therapy assistant then puts the plan into action and informs the occupational therapist of the client’s progress. Essentially, OTs and OTAs work together to help their clients do the things they want and need to do on a daily basis.

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OT student helping older woman with walker

What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

OTAs work in diverse practice areas and settings, helping:

  • Toddlers increase their social skills through play
  • Amputees learn how to function with a new artificial limb
  • Wheelchair-bound individuals navigate buildings on their own
  • Individuals with Down syndrome learn self-care activities
  • Senior citizens with dementia adapt to memory loss

What’s to Love about OTA?

Occupational Therapy versus Physical Therapy

Occupational Therapy

People often confuse occupational therapy with physical therapy. Occupational therapy works to improve the life skills or vocational path of clients/patients. It is a form of rehabilitation that helps people overcome or adapt to their functional deficiencies so they can live as independently as possible.

For example, occupational therapists help:

  • Children develop better hand muscle control so they can tie their shoes
  • People suffering from anxiety disorders build their social skills

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy, by contrast, diagnoses and treats specific injuries and movement dysfunction in patients. It is a form of rehabilitation that helps people manage physical pain by using techniques such as exercise and massage instead of undergoing surgery or developing a long-term reliance on medication.

For example, physical therapists help:

  • Athletes regain muscle strength and flexibility following a torn ligament
  • People with back problems manage their pain through special exercises
outside shot of st. kate campus

The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained