The field of occupational therapy seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in the healthcare arena. People often ask, "What is an occupational therapist and what do they do?"
Many believe it is simply related to helping others develop job skills for an occupation. In reality, occupational therapists do much more. They assist the client or patient in establishing goals that address the whole person and help them maximize their ability to care for themselves. They also help the client or patient overcome physical and environmental barriers and ultimately smooth their progress toward individual goals, which may include employment, recreation and community participation.
Occupational therapists interact closely with their clients and display high levels of creativity. They work with individuals of all ages and diverse needs, including those with carpal tunnel, visual difficulties, problems associated with me mory and even factors associated with restlessness in children.
A comprehensive program to meet the specific needs of an individual is designed by the therapist and may include theories of development, sensory integration, activity and exercise.
Occupational therapists are highly trained to meet these complex demands; they must complete a master's program, pass a national board examination and be licensed in their state. The academic classes are rigorous and include anatomy, developmental classes, kinesiology, activity analysis and a heavy concentration in psychology. Many are surprised to learn about the link to psychology; however, the birthplace of occupational therapy was in psychiatry and soldier rehabilitation. Dr. William Rush Dunton, an early pioneer in the field, stated, "Occupation is regarded as one of the most valued therapeutic measures."
The profession of occupational therapy is an acclaimed and growing rehabilitative specialty in health care. Money magazine last year ranked occupational therapy 19th in an article titled "The 50 Best Jobs in America." The profession is predicted to grow by 25 percent in the next 10 years, and the current number of jobs for occupational therapists is 110,000. There is much more you can learn about this exciting field. You can start with the American Occupational Therapy Association at
The University of Texas at El Paso has an occupational therapy program that you can find at Therapists can also be found in school systems, nursing homes, rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient clinics.
April is National Occupational Therapy Month; there is still time to take an occupational therapist to lunch.
Gloria Brown is an occupational therapist working as a part-time assistant clinical professor at UTEP and as a supervisor in the hand therapy department at the El Paso Orthopaedic Surgery Group. Her special interests are upper extremity rehabilitation and research.