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Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) benefits people of all ages with various diagnoses, ranging from mild to severe conditions such as stroke, heart attack, motor vehicle injuries, brain injury, head trauma, spinal cord injury and orthopedic injury. OT also helps patients with muscular sclerosis, Guillian Barre and Parkinson's disease.

Occupational therapists help people regain or relearn activities of daily living such as getting out of bed, dressing, bathroom safety, bathing, using durable medical equipment and using adaptive equipment to make tasks easier. OTs develop ways for patients to perform homemaking tasks more independently and at a level of function that is safe for the individual. OT practitioners have an important role in educating caregivers and family members to assist or supervise patients to perform daily tasks safely and independently upon discharge. OTs also specialize in education of upper extremity management of the hand and arm function, neurological retraining and cognitive retraining.

OT treatment requires a physician's referral and often involves working in collaboration with physicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, nurses, family members, caregivers and teachers.

About Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy began in the early 20th century with a focus on the rehabilitation of disabled soldiers in World War I. The value of OT in treating physical dysfunction was recognized, spurring the growth of this field.

Occupational therapy is skilled treatment that helps individuals achieve independence in all facets of their lives. OT gives people "skills for the job of living" that are needed for independent and satisfying lives. Services typically include:

  • Customized treatment programs aimed at improving abilities to carry out the activities of daily living
  • Comprehensive evaluation of home and job environments and recommendations on necessary adaptation
  • Assessments and treatment for performance skills
  • Recommendations and training in the use of adaptive equipment
  • Guidance to family members and caregivers

OT practitioners are skilled professionals whose education includes the study of human growth and development with specific emphasis on the social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury. OTs enter the field with a bachelor's, masters or doctoral degree. The OT assistant generally earns an associate degree. Practitioners must complete supervised clinical internships in a variety of health care settings and pass a national examination. Most states also regulate occupational therapy practice.

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Who Benefits From Occupational Therapy?

Every day, children and adults have or develop health conditions that significantly affect their ability to manage their daily lives. With the help of occupational therapy, many of these individuals can achieve or regain a higher level of independence. When skill and strength cannot be developed or improved, OT offers creative solutions and alternatives for carrying out daily activities.

A wide variety of people can benefit from occupational therapy, including those with:

  • Work-related injuries including lower back problems or repetitive stress injuries
  • Limitations following a stroke or heart attack
  • Arthritis, multiple sclerosis or other serious chronic conditions
  • Birth injuries, learning problems or developmental disabilities
  • Mental health or behavioral problems including Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress
  • Problems with substance use or eating disorders
  • Burns, spinal cord injuries or amputations
  • Broken bones or other injuries from falls, sports injuries or accidents
  • Vision or cognitive problems that threaten their ability to drive

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About the Profession

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the nationally recognized professional association of more than 40,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and students of occupational therapy. These individuals work in a wide range of settings including schools, higher education teaching programs, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health environments, driver evaluations, work hardening programs, private practice, preventive care environments, community reintegration programs, outpatient rehabilitation clinics, psychiatric facilities and community health programs, to name a few. It is recommended that practicing OTs or certified occupational therapist assistants (COTA/L) become members of the AOTA.

OT practitioners can be credentialed at either the professional (occupational therapist) or technical (occupational therapy assistant) level. The OT completes a baccalaureate, entry-level master's, or entry-level doctoral degree, and the OTA completes a two-year associate degree (OTA) program at one of more than 300 accredited programs at colleges and universities throughout the United States. OT and OTA students also must complete a supervised fieldwork program and pass a national certification exam. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico regulate the practice of occupational therapy. Many of these jurisdictions mandate periodic continuing education requirements.

AOTA's accrediting body, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), has established standards for the profession that have been adopted by many states in their laws and regulations. AOTA, through its accrediting body, has accredited the nation's occupational therapy educational programs since 1935.

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy is a national governing organization that involves testing to certify therapists for national licensure. The West Virginia Occupational Therapy Association is a statewide organization that helps to maintain and organize OT events in West Virginia. Additionally, the West Virginia Board of Occupational Therapy (WVBOT) is a local governing organization that identifies and controls licensure laws and regulation of therapists who are employed in the state of West Virginia and protection of the consumers within the state. WVBOT keeps records of continuing education hours that allow therapists to continue practicing.

Sources: The American Occupational Therapy Association; Sarah Van R. M. Black, BA, COTA/L, CAMC Medical Rehabilitation Center

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