Occupational therapist


To improve/maintain a person’s ability to carry out daily life tasks. These tasks can be in:

  • self-care (self-care & domestic)
  • leisure
  • productivity (work - paid or unpaid, study)

In order to improve/maintain these abilities an occupational therapist evaluates, together with the client, the specific occupations or activities a person carries out and works closely with them to help adapt:
  • the occupation or activity
  • the person
  • and/ or the environment

Adapting the occupation or activity can be achieved by, for instance, doing smaller amounts of the tasks, such as: ironing for 15 minutes rather than until all the laundry is done; instituting regular changes of activity (move from computer screen work to filing after 1 hour).

Adapting the person most often involves educating the person about the benefits of joint protection and fatigue management (e.g. taking regular rest breaks etc) and working closely with the individual to devise a strategy to ensure the person achieves the goals s/he sets to make these changes. The OT may provide counselling, psychological support and use cognitive-behavioural approaches and group programmes to help support change. Often family and carers are involved in this as well.

Adapting the environment involves making sure the environment does not aggravate complaints. For instance, in the home: by making sure that everything needed for a hot drink is within easy reach, storing things at appropriate heights, providing or recommending adapted equipment, liaising about housing adaptations. The OT can also liaise with employers, when undertaking work assessments, to recommend adaptations.

To help all of the above occupational therapists also fabricate splints and provide people with instructions on how to wear these; devise hand and upper limb exercise programmes to make sure the person with a musculoskeletal condition has optimal use of their hand function. Often this takes place in conjunction with a physiotherapist.

Within the whole treatment process the occupational therapist liases and negotiates not only with the client, but also with the multi-disciplinary team, which will include both primary and secondary care where appropriate.

What kind of training does an OT have?

Occupational therapists undertake a three-year degree undergraduate OT course which leads to a BSc(Hons) degree and entitles them to membership of the College of Occupational Therapists (COT. OTs working in NHS, Social Services and with Charitable Organisations must be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC). OTs continue to develop their skills and knowledge after qualifying by undertaking postgraduate courses and training.

There is a COT Specialist Section: the National Association of Rheumatologists Occupational Therapists which holds an annual conference and has regional groups.