Role of an Occupational Therapist

The field of occupational therapy is very similar to physical therapy, except that the occupational therapist focuses on helping patients get better at performing everyday tasks to get through their day, including work-related tasks (occupations). If you are researching information about different healthcare careers, you may have wondered, what does an occupational therapist do? What is the primary role of an occupational therapist, and what types of jobs are available for those who pursue this healthcare profession? Learning about the different roles and responsibilities of an occupational therapist can help you decide whether this is the right career path for you.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Many students exploring various career paths in healthcare and rehabilitative care ask the question, what does an occupational therapist do? The occupational therapist's primary tasks include:

  • Educating the patient about proper posture
  • Guiding the patient through various strength-building exercises
  • Assisting clients to perform different types of activities
  • Selecting various types of activities to help patients improve visual acuity
  • Using computer programs to help clients improve their decision-making, problem-solving, memory and abstract-reasoning skills
  • Designing or recommending special equipment that can be used at home and at work to perform various tasks

Some occupational therapists are trained to work with specific groups, such as children, seniors, teens or those who are undergoing a rehabilitation program. These therapists may choose to complete a certificate in a particular specialization so that they have advanced skills and knowledge to work with certain groups and can customize a treatment plan that works for each patient.

Primary Role of an Occupational Therapist

Taking some time to review an occupational therapist job description can help you determine what the role of an occupational therapist is, and whether this type of job would be a good fit for you. The primary role of an occupational therapist is to work one-on-one with patients who are injured, disabled or are recovering from an injury. The therapist guides that patient through different exercise to strengthen the body, increase range of motion, and restore functioning of the major muscle groups.

Occupational therapists must have at least a master's degree in order to serve as an occupational therapist. Those who have a four-year bachelor's degree and a certificate are qualified to apply for an occupational therapist assistant role.

The primary role of an occupational therapist, and key responsibilities for this type of job, include:

  • Developing a comprehensive evaluation of the patient's current state of health to determine: range of motion; strength; sensation; coordination; skin or wound conditions; any pain and swelling; and functional posture or body mechanics.
  • Creating an individualized treatment plan that includes: range of motion exercises; strengthening exercises; massage to decrease pain; splining to support injuries; wound and skin care treatment; workstation assessment or a job evaluation; and functional ergonomics.
  • Evaluating the outcome of the treatment plan. This typically involves reviewing the patient's progress, educating the patient about additional exercises or activities they can perform to increase strength, and detecting any problems that still exist to address during the next treatment phase.