In general, therapy refers to an attempt of diagnosing a health problem upon identification. Various forms of therapy have been created to address different health problems. Occupational therapy (OT) is among the newer forms of therapies which is very closely related to physical therapy (PT), but is different in one major way.
OT is much more hands-on compared to PT as it is customized to meet the needs of the individual rather than just being part of the routine. For example, an individual may be signed up for a PT program which they attend for 1 or 2 hours a day, but with OT, there are no set hours when the program ends as it will keep going on till the goals of the day are accomplished.
This particular feature of OT makes it more suitable for certain kinds of health problems which cannot be catered adequately by other forms of therapy. Here are some of the conditions:
Injuries can vary in degree from mild, like a muscle sprain, to extreme, like multiple bone fractures or injuries to delicate parts like the spine. These kinds of extreme injuries often leave the individual incapacitated and unable to perform even the most basic tasks they did every other day like going to the bathroom, changing clothes or taking a bath. These individuals need a lot more care than what is provided through PT, and this is where OT comes in.
Physical therapy would only be recommended if the doctors believed that the individual would recover. But OT can be used even when there is no possibility of recovery. Therefore, the point of occupational therapy would be to train the individual how to live in their current physical state. It can still be used even when the individual is bound to recover, but OT addresses a lot more issues.
For example, an occupational therapist might advise you to install rails around your house to enable you to move freely without help. This is something a physical therapist would not be able to do. The occupational therapist will also assist you with simple tasks that cannot be performed, and in doing so will show you how to do it on your own. Hence the idea behind an occupational therapy is to help you get back to your normal routine, tasks or occupation.
Besides the lingering physical aspects, an occupational therapist is also trained to administer any medication required to help with the recovery. At the same time, they will also perform any exercises required to help hasten the recovery just like a physical therapist.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4 (DSM-IV) lists almost 300 mental disorders, and yet there are even more on the 5th version of the manual (DSM-V). Fortunately, medical research has become so advanced that there are medications to treat or to limit most of these mental disorders. However, some are still beyond the abilities of pharmaceutical intervention and require different measures.
For example, consider a schizophrenic who experiences hallucinations and delusions. Despite the availability of medication to control this condition, the individual may be unable to maintain the required dosage due to the mental disorder. In doing so, they may end up putting themselves in danger or become violent to those around them. Occupational therapy provides hope to such an individual because the therapist is able to spend time with the individual and create a stable routine together that encourages the individual to maintain their medication.
Apart from establishing a routine, OT involves in training the family and friends of the individual in dealing with them appropriately. Therefore, the individual is not only exposed to a healthy social life but also receives adequate care from everyone around them.
Other forms of mental disorders addressed through OT include ADHD and depression, both of which present symptoms when certain triggers are sparked. An occupational therapist is able to identify these triggers by spending time with the affected individual and guide them away from such encounters to reduce any episodes. There are certain phobias like agoraphobia which prevent the individual from leaving the house. But OT can help the person get over their irrational fears by gradually exposing them to their fears.
Children with learning disabilities may find it challenging to attend schools with other children because of the difficulty in understanding what is being taught. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have the mental capacity to understand. But rather, a different approach towards learning.
One of the common learning disorders is dyslexia in which the individual is unable to read a text and have problems with speech. Most teachers do not know how to handle such cases. But occupational therapists are trained to identify these difficulties and devise strategies to overcome them. If the services of an occupational therapist are requested from an early age, the child will be able to keep up with the rest of their peers.
Many dyslexics and sufferers of other learning disorders are able to lead a normal, productive lives in adulthood since an occupational therapist was present to guide them through their difficulties. Parental guidance is not quite enough in this case as the children need specialized teaching strategies.
As we grow old, we no longer have the vigor of youth and early adulthood. As the years keep going by, even the simplest tasks become harder to perform. Besides the normal cell degeneration, various physical conditions like osteoarthritis begins to develop which incapacitates the individual further. In these stages, some elderly people move to nursing homes but occupational therapy can provide an alternative that is just as effective as a nursing home, but with the comfort of being in your own home.
It’s a lot like caring for an injured individual where design changes are made in the home to ensure that the individual can have access to all the amenities. Then there is the physical aspect where the elderly individual is put through a physical therapy program to strengthen their muscles and bones, hence improving their physical stature. OT as a method of care for the elderly is a preferred method because it is much more personal and yet has more benefits than those of a nursing home.