COLUMN: Occupational therapy is a well-rounded profession

Published 7:50 pm Thursday, May 12, 2022

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By Tonya Sinclair Swindell

At the end of the day when it’s all said and done, occupational therapy is a well-rounded profession: a skilled rehabilitative service, a whole health focus at the core — from pediatrics to adulthood OT patients learn to do more. They go beyond limitations to achieve a more independent life with assistance from others or with the aid of a device: a reacher, long handled bath sponge, sock aid or button hook, patients may even be retrained on how to feed themselves or cook.

Feeding oneself can be a very important goal achieved with larger utensils that are easier to hold. If adaptive mobility needs are required to be assessed, Occupational therapists can determine if manual, powered or active assisted wheelchairs are best. When in the nursing home, the patient’s needs are evaluated to see if they can go back home or to an environment that is safe.

When hospitalized on an inpatient unit, increased endurance is often the key to get through it. OTs may co-treat with physical therapy staff to restore, rebuild and make gains on the path to prepare for the next discharge environment that is optimal for a patient’s stage of development. When patients are seen in outpatient clinics, it may be for any number of reasons. As outpatients prepare for hip or knee surgery, it may be a time for education and learning about how to perform tasks in alternate ways that increase independence while managing pain.

Occupational Therapists working within the school system can help to make a very big difference by engaging young students in playful activities that help to expand their current abilities. Pediatric patients may lack fine motor skills that are needed to have a successful school year. And when neurological systems seem disorganized, OTs work with interdisciplinary team members helping students to thrive.  

For brain injured patients with ongoing disabilities, OTs may explore their existing capabilities as patients learn to use different strategies that compensate for decreases in their memories.  For individuals who may be more physically injured, many OTs are trained to deliver information including helpful education about the benefits of home modification.  If shoulder, hand or an elbow injury results in decreased functional mobility, an occupational therapist may be called upon for evaluation, treatment and splint fabrication.  

Every day may look different from another because the needs of OT patients differ from one person to the other. Skill building groups like writing, stress and anger management hearken back to the roots of the OT profession when clinicians worked with military veterans needing to process effects of war and devastation. Their shell shock was eased by effective clinical interactions with workers later to be named Occupational Therapists. Overall Occupational Therapy is a helping profession that focuses on creating optimal function. It successfully blends the healthy aspects of what’s needed for a patient to achieve success in critical areas of daily living for the desired outcome of holistic healing.

TONYA SINCLAIR SWINDELL is a mental health occupational therapist. She can be reached at: