Occupational Therapy2024-05-24T16:58:13+00:00

What is Occupational Therapy?


Learn about the core principles of occupational therapy and apply for an online occupational therapy degree today!

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Start Date: 11/09/2023
Application Deadline: 11/09/2023

Learn about the core principles of occupational therapy and apply for an online occupational therapy degree today!

Occupational therapy (OT) is a dynamic and holistic healthcare profession that focuses on enabling individuals to engage in meaningful activities or occupations that enhance their health, well-being, and quality of life.

Rooted in the belief that participation in daily activities is fundamental to human identity and satisfaction, occupational therapists work with people of all ages and abilities to address physical, cognitive, emotional, and environmental challenges that may hinder their ability to participate fully in life.

Historical Context of Occupational Therapy

The roots of occupational therapy can be traced back to the late 18th century when it emerged as a response to the humanitarian needs of individuals with mental illness. Moral treatment, as it was known, emphasized the therapeutic value of purposeful activity in promoting mental health and recovery.

Over time, occupational therapy evolved into a distinct profession with a wide range of applications beyond mental health, including physical rehabilitation, pediatrics, geriatrics, and community-based practice.

Core Principles of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is guided by several core principles, including:

Client-Centered Care

Clients are active participants in the therapeutic process, with their preferences, values, and goals driving decision-making. Occupational therapists strive to empower clients to make informed choices and take ownership of their health and well-being.

Evidence-Based Practice

Occupational therapy interventions are grounded in the best available evidence from research, clinical expertise, and client values. Occupational therapists continually evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and adapt their approaches based on emerging evidence and client feedback.

Holistic Approach

Occupational therapists consider the interconnectedness of mind, body, and environment in addressing the needs of clients. They assess not only physical impairments but also cognitive, emotional, social, and environmental factors that may impact an individual’s ability to function independently.

Occupation-Centered Practice

Central to occupational therapy is the belief that engagement in meaningful activities is essential for health and well-being. Occupational therapists collaborate with clients to identify their unique goals, interests, and priorities, and tailor interventions to facilitate participation in desired activities.

Promotion of Health and Participation

Beyond addressing deficits or disabilities, occupational therapy emphasizes the promotion of health, prevention of disability, and optimization of participation in life activities. Occupational therapists work collaboratively with clients to build skills, develop strategies, and create supportive environments that enable meaningful engagement in daily life.

Occupational Therapy Scope of Practice

Occupational therapists work in diverse settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, mental health facilities, community clinics, and private practice. They serve individuals across the lifespan, from infants in neonatal intensive care units to older adults in assisted living facilities. While the specific roles and responsibilities of occupational therapists may vary depending on the setting and population served, common areas of practice include:

Physical Rehabilitation

An occupational therapist may help individuals recover from injuries, surgeries, or illnesses that affect their ability to perform daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and cooking. They may provide therapeutic exercises, adaptive equipment, and environmental modifications to improve mobility, strength, coordination, and independence.


Occupational therapists work with children with developmental delays, sensory processing disorders, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities to promote optimal development and participation in school, play, and social activities. They may provide interventions to develop fine motor skills, sensory integration, visual perceptual skills, self-care skills, and social-emotional development.

Mental Health

Occupational therapists support individuals with mental illness in managing symptoms, improving coping skills, and reintegrating into community life. They may facilitate group therapy sessions, teach stress management techniques, and collaborate with clients to establish daily routines and leisure pursuits that promote mental wellness.


Occupational therapy helps address the unique needs of older adults, including age-related declines in physical function, cognitive abilities, and social engagement. They may assess home environments for safety and accessibility, provide interventions to prevent falls, and promote independence in activities such as meal preparation, medication management, and leisure pursuits.

Work and Vocational Rehabilitation

Occupational therapists assist individuals with disabilities or injuries in returning to work or finding meaningful employment. They may evaluate job demands, recommend ergonomic modifications, provide vocational training, and support clients in developing job-seeking skills and workplace accommodations.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) are vital allied healthcare professions, but they serve distinct purposes and employ different approaches. While physical therapy focuses primarily on improving mobility, strength, and physical function, occupational therapy addresses a broader range of activities and daily living skills necessary for independent functioning.

PT interventions often target specific impairments or injuries related to movement and musculoskeletal function, utilizing exercises, manual therapy, and modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation. In contrast, OT interventions focus on enhancing a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as self-care tasks, home management, work-related activities, and leisure pursuits, through adaptations, assistive devices, environmental modifications, and skill development.

While there may be overlap in some areas, such as rehabilitation following a stroke or orthopedic surgery, occupational therapists and physical therapists collaborate closely to provide comprehensive care that addresses the unique needs and goals of each individual.

Occupational therapy is a dynamic and client-centered profession dedicated to helping individuals live fulfilling and meaningful lives. By addressing the physical, cognitive, emotional, and environmental factors that influence participation in daily activities, occupational therapists empower clients to overcome challenges, achieve their goals, and thrive in their communities. As advocates for health, well-being, and social justice, occupational therapists play a vital role in promoting inclusion, independence, and quality of life for people of all ages and abilities.

Interested in Studying Occupational Therapy? Apply to Valparaiso University.

Study occupational therapy at Valparaiso University to help promote health and well-being in your daily tasks. Enter a program based on integrity designed to help you provide compassionate care to clients. Apply to the post-professional doctor of occupational therapy (DrOT) program today! With a DrOT, you can advance your occupational knowledge and elevate your career. Gain access to higher-level career opportunities and specialized education with an online degree.

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