This April we are celebrating the centennial anniversary of Occupational Therapist (O.T.) becoming a profession. The profession has changed much over the 100 years since it started as a profession, even in the past 30+ years since I’ve been involved. Since then, we’ve created practices, workshops, certifications, academic programs, accreditation standards, and much more! The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents 213,000 occupational therapy practitioners and students in the United States.
The United States Department of Labor describe the work that occupational therapists do as: “treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.”
I personally chose to go into this field because it’s a helping profession that uses my psychology training, creativity, and my belief that meaningful activity is healthy. My favorite thing about my job is to see the smile on a patient’s face when they do something they did not think they could ever do again or do a desired activity for the first time.
There are several misconceptions that I see with the O.T. profession. Some people have a belief that our job is to help someone
get a job, or that it’s the same exact thing as a Physical Therapist. Both of these are untrue. The word “occupational” is used to indicate meaningful or functional activity, such as eating, dressing, or casting a fishing line. Physical therapists (P.T.) traditionally use physical modalities, such as heat, massage, or exercise. Occupational therapists traditionally use therapeutic activity, such as games, crafts, or self-care tasks. These roles are more blended now with both using physical modalities and therapeutic activity; however, the P.T.s are experts on the lower body, spine, and neck, while the O.T.s are experts on the upper body and sensory issues.
A favorite memory of mine was of a two-year-old boy who was so uncomfortable with any sensory experience; he would not sit on a swing, even 2” from the ground. After working with us for a while he could climb to the top of the waterslide at the Maslowski Center, slide down and swim to the rope by himself! Another patient that sticks out to me was of a woman that I treated who was 100-years-old. She could no longer see or hear baseball games on TV. I got her set up with a digital book player that could be adjusted to a low and slow tone she could hear. She could now listen to baseball stories! These things change the patient’s lives, but also me as their Occupational Therapist. What keeps me motivated every day is seeing my patient’s progress.
About the Author: Lora Fourst, O.T., has worked for Tri-County Health Care for nearly six years. She received her Bachelor of Art Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy. She also completed her Master’s Certificate in Low Vision Rehab.