A Brief Introduction to Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a way of regaining or improving physical function in order to go back to doing daily activities that have become difficult as a result of illness, injury or a long-term condition.

Occupational therapy will aim to improve the person’s independence at home, at work and out and about. An occupational therapist will advise the person on achievable goals to set themselves around the activities they would like to be able to perform independently. They will then recommend and help implement practical techniques so that the person can achieve these goals. 

What support will an occupational therapist provide? 

Techniques may include breaking down the activity into smaller steps which can then be practised multiple times until the person can complete it, before moving onto the next step. The activity can also be adapted – such as simplifying the processes involved in cooking a meal – to make it more achievable.

Aids and special equipment may be offered as part of occupational therapy if, for example, a rail for the bath will help someone recovering from a hip replacement get in and out of the bath. This may also involve adapting the person’s living or working environment in simple ways like keeping the space tidier and less cluttered.

Voice-controlled computer software for someone with difficulty using their hands (as can be the case for people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, carpal tunnel syndrome and a variety of other conditions) is an adaptation which an occupational therapist can help a workplace make to accommodate their employer in accordance with the Equality Act (2010).

Workplace rehabilitation is another key role that an occupational therapist can take on. They will work with the employer and the person themselves to discuss how best to re-adapt, or adapt, to doing tasks as part of employment. They may recommend a change of role, changes to the existing role, additional training, or increasing awareness of the person’s conditions among their colleagues. An occupational therapist will also make regular visits or monitoring appointments so that the person’s workplace and workplace activities are optimally set up for them and their condition.

If someone wishes to start or return to work, an occupational therapist may recommend a method called activity grading which involves working a few hours, or a day, per week, then gradually working up to more hours or days. The same approach can be used to help someone achieve day-to-day tasks like walking to the shops. An occupational therapist may recommend walking halfway one day before getting the bus, then increasing how much of the journey is done on foot each time. This approach increases confidence in the person, as well their physical and mental ability to cope with the activity.

How can I access occupational therapy? 

Occupational therapy can be obtained through the NHS or through a person’s local council. Eligible people typically include those with learning, mental and physical disabilities and the elderly, as well as those recovering from operations. A person wishing to have occupational therapy will be assessed to better understand their condition before the therapy begins. If they wish to access it through their local council, different criteria will apply which determine their eligibility under the Care and Support Regulations 2014.

Grants such as the Disabled Facilities Grant can help cover the cost of home adaptations recommended by an occupational therapist so that the person can continue to live independently and receive the full practical support they need. Access to Work can provide similar grants to fund adaptations to the person’s workplace at no cost to the employer.

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