Occupational therapy supports people whose physical or mental health, environment or social circumstances make it difficult to take part in the activities that matter to them.
An occupational therapist will work with you to identify strengths and difficulties you may have in everyday life. This might include tasks like dressing or getting to the shops. They'll work with you to find practical solutions.
Techniques and equipment to help you
Your occupational therapist will work with you to find practical solutions that can help you maintain, regain, or improve your independence and participation in daily activities. These solutions might involve changing your environment, or using different techniques and new equipment.
Many different techniques and equipment can be used as part of occupational therapy. Your occupational therapist will recommend techniques and equipment and discuss options.
Using special equipment
Occupational therapists will suggest tools or pieces of equipment you may find helpful, like:
- a walking stick, walking frame or wheelchair
- electric can openers or electric toothbrushes
- knives with large handles and chunky pens
- a non-slip mat for the bath
- a special keyboard or mouse to help you use a computer
- voice-controlled lights
- voice-controlled software on a computer
- a special comb
- a device that turns the pages of a book
- two-handled cups, tap turners and kettle tippers
- bed raisers and hoists
- specialist seating
You should mention any difficulties you have to your occupational therapist. No matter how small they seem, there may be all kinds of adapted equipment that can help.
Activity grading and graded exposure
Sometimes an occupational therapist may use activity grading to help you take part in an activity.
Activity grading is a way of breaking down an activity into more manageable steps.
For example, if your goal is to walk to work, but it is too far for you to do at once, this can be broken down.
On your first day, you could get the bus most of the way and then walk the last part. Each week, you could get off the bus a stop earlier and increase the distance you walk. The activity becomes increasingly difficult as you gradually reach your goal of walking to work.
As you become more confident with an activity, you can progress to the next stage and eventually reach your goal.
Graded exposure is similar to activity grading but is more focused on dealing with the emotional and psychological element of rehabilitation. It's used to help gradually build your confidence and establish meaningful routines that you may have otherwise avoided.
Workplace rehabilitation, or vocational rehabilitation, means helping someone with a physical or mental health condition return to work or start working. It can also mean helping someone to carry on working. "Work" includes jobs that aren't paid, such as being a full-time parent or a volunteer.
An occupational therapist can help by:
- assessing your workplace
- assessing your role at work
- assessing your ability to complete work activities, and finding ways to assist you
- finding ways to manage your condition while at work
- providing additional training
- finding a way to cope with problems like discrimination and prejudice
- helping your employers manage your return to work and increasing awareness of your condition
- monitoring your progress
- completing fit notes where appropriate
Leisure rehabilitation covers any fun activity, such as your hobbies and social events.
Taking part in leisure activities can stop you feeling isolated because of your condition and improve your quality of life. While you need to be able to care for yourself and work, being able to take part in activities for fun is also important.
An occupational therapist may discuss what activities you enjoy and find practical ways to help you continue those activities.
For example, if you like going out to the shops but find it tiring, an occupational therapist may suggest a wheeled walker with a seat and basket. If you enjoy gardening but find some tasks difficult, an occupational therapist can identify easier ways of carrying out those tasks using different techniques and specially adapted gardening tools
If your mental health impacts your participation in leisure activities, occupational therapists may work with you to improve motivation, concentration and energy levels.
Thinking about activities differently
An occupational therapist will look at the activity you're finding difficult and see if there's another way it can be completed.
For example, if you're finding it difficult to peel and chop vegetables, perhaps you could buy vegetables that are already prepared, or perhaps there's a small piece of equipment to help with chopping and peeling.
If you're finding it difficult to walk to your local shop, there may be a bus that runs past your house, or you may be able to do your shopping on the internet.
If you're finding it difficult to do the ironing, perhaps you could sit down while you iron.
Who can benefit from occupational therapy?
Occupational therapists work with people of all ages, including children. They look at all aspects of daily life, from the home, to school or the workplace.
Occupational therapy is used to treat and manage a wide range of conditions and needs. Some of these conditions include those that:
- are present from birth
- develop with age
- are the result of an accident
- are the result of a change in mental wellbeing
Occupational therapy is also used as part of a rehabilitation programme (a treatment programme that helps someone recover from illness or injury), for example after surgery or to treat depression.