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How can occupational therapy help?

occupational therapy examplesOccupational therapists can work in a variety of work settings and specialisms. Here are just a few examples of the ways in which occupational therapists can help people.

How can an occupational therapist help someone who has a substance misuse problem?

Substance misuse refers to drug or alcohol use that causes harm to an individual. People can become physically and psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol.

When people are dependent on a substance their daily lives tend to revolve around their drug or alcohol use i.e. finding the money to buy drugs, and buying and using drugs. Sometimes people's drug or alcohol use is an attempt to cope with problems e.g. drinking alcohol to cope with feeling anxious.

After becoming engaged in treatment clients can be left with a vacuum in day to day living, which can leave them feeling de-skilled, vulnerable and bored. This is when occupational therapy can help clients develop living skills, coping strategies and a more satisfying lifestyle. These interventions aim to reduce the risk of relapsing back into drug or alcohol use and can include the following:

Positive lifestyle changes – filling the void in people's lives when they are no longer spending their time using drugs or alcohol. This includes:

  • Developing a balanced and satisfying routine
  • Developing new interests
  • Help with finding training and skills to work towards employment
  • Developing new social networks around shared interests rather than drugs or alcohol

Developing coping skills - learning and applying practical skills to avoid lapsing back into drug or alcohol use, feeling more confident and in control in difficult situations. For example:

  • Coping with stress and anxiety
  • Daily living skills e.g. managing money, problem solving and accessing community resources
  • Being assertive e.g. saying no with confidence
  • Relapse prevention skills e.g. coping with cravings

How can an occupational therapist help someone with Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive deterioration of the brain. Most people with this illness are elderly, but it can also occur in younger people in their 40s and 50s, or occasionally even younger.

Initially different people may experience different symptoms – such as poor memory, difficulty with planning and organising tasks which they used to do easily, problems following the plot in television programmes.

As the illness progresses it impacts on every area of life, both for the person themselves and others close to them. In recent years drugs have been developed which can delay the downward progress of the illness, but other kinds of support are almost always needed as well.

The occupational therapist can help the person with Alzheimer's:

  • To find simpler ways of doing things
  • To identify which skills, abilities and hobbies are most important to them
  • By encouraging them to develop techniques to preserve these
  • By monitoring progress and suggesting ways of modifying activities and lifestyle as the person's needs change
  • By helping the person to understand what is happening to them and come to terms with it
  • By helping family and friends to support their loved one without deskilling them
  • To maintain a lifestyle which meets all their needs – intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual – as well as physical
  • To retain independence in ways that are important to them – for some it will be washing and dressing, for others some hobby or domestic skill

Occupational therapists in independent practice

After a number of years' experience, and having gained expertise in a chosen field, an occupational therapist might decide to go into independent practice.

They would then be able to work in any of the clinical fields described below, but in a self-employed capacity, or as a director or employee of a company. There are also other types of work that cannot be covered by occupational therapists working in the public sector.

How can an occupational therapist help someone who has been injured in an accident?

People who have been injured through the negligence of someone else (for example in a road accident or at work) can claim compensation through the legal system. As part of their action for damages, an assessment of their needs is required.

An occupational therapist can assess and report to the court on the care the injured person needs, the specialist equipment needed (wheelchairs, special beds, seating etc.) and the adaptations to housing required enabling the injured person to resume an acceptable lifestyle.

How can an occupational therapist help people with very severe disabilities?

Occupational therapists in independent practice also work as case managers, helping people with catastrophic injuries (brain injury, spinal injury or the families of severely disabled children) to recruit and supervise employed carers, arrange for equipment demonstrations and trials, or liase with architects and builders over adapting housing.

How can occupational therapists help to ensure that older people in residential homes are properly cared for?

Occupational therapists in independent practice can undertake rest and nursing home assessments to ensure that the facilities and the building are suitable for the needs of the residents.

Related links

(Information taken from the British Association of Occupational Therapists)