Occupational therapy 


Occupational therapy

An occupational therapist explains what occupational therapy involves, who can benefit and the different types of help that are available.

Media last reviewed: 12/09/2013

Next review due: 12/09/2015

Occupational therapy provides support to people whose health prevents them from doing the activities that matter to them.

An occupational therapist can identify strengths and difficulties you may have in everyday life, such as dressing or getting to the shops, and will help you work out practical solutions.

An occupational therapist can work with you to identify goals that can help you maintain, regain or improve your independence by using different techniques, changing your environment and using new equipment.

Who can benefit from occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is used when an individual is having difficulty with everyday tasks. This could be because of a:

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and can look at all aspects of daily life, from the home to the school or workplace.

Read more about when occupational therapy is used.

Occupational therapy techniques

After identifying the difficulties experienced by the individual with everyday tasks, occupational therapists can help by either:

  • practising the activity in manageable stages
  • teaching a different way to complete the activity
  • recommending changes that will make the activity easier
  • providing devices that make activities easier

For example, after a hip replacement someone may find it difficult to get in and out of the bath. Grab rails could be fitted in the bathroom to make this easier.

Someone with rheumatoid arthritis (a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints) may find it hard to lift small objects.

Special equipment, such as a wide-handled vegetable peeler, may be made available to make tasks easier.

Read more about occupational therapy techniques and equipment.

The aim of these changes is to allow you to maintain and improve your ability to do everyday tasks. This can include both work and leisure activities.

Read more about occupational therapy rehabilitation.

How is it accessed?

Ask your GP, nurse or other health or social care professional for a referral to see an occupational therapist.

You can also go through your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) or local authority social services department.

If you do not want to go through the NHS or local authority, you can contact an occupational therapist directly.

Read more about accessing occupational therapy.

The professional body for occupational therapists working in a wide range of areas in the UK is the British Association of Occupational Therapy (BAOT).

The association, which includes the College of Occupational Therapists (COT), publishes several helpful patient information leaflets explaining how their work can help.

Page last reviewed: 23/08/2014

Next review due: 23/08/2016


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

arclite said on 11 February 2013

I was diagnosed as having ASD in April 2011. In May 2011 I was placed under the care of my local CMHT. In nearly 2 years there has been no procurement for ASD support. I am physically disabled. I have a spinal lesion. I cannot get suitable disability support through CMHT. The local authority state as they had closed the Adult Disability Support Team two years ago, it is now the responsibility of the local CMHT to provide support for disabled clients. There is apparently utter confusion surrounding competency in disability support and necessary independent adjudication in this situation as it has been created by a local authority cost reduction restructure. The infrastructure of support for disability, where serious failings have taken place, has been dismantled by central government by the removal of legal aid. Does anyone know how a disabled person can defend themselves from disability ignorance when a judge is the only remaining independent adjudicator in regard to statutory protection and a fair redress of balance? The European Courts have clearly advised a zero tolerance for impact against not only a protected individual but also impact against the supporting infrastructure for a protected individual. Cost is not an issue in the preservation of human rights.

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User642786 said on 07 February 2012

UNbelievable. Once again the NHS shows its complete lack of compassion and understanding of illness and disability!!! The article states 'Occupational therapy is used when someone is having difficulty with everyday tasks. This could be because of a:
physical disability – for example, someone who uses a wheelchair
learning disability – for example, someone with an autistic spectrum disorder
mental health condition – for example, bipolar disorder
medical condition – for example, rheumatoid arthritis'

Apparently having a medical condition is not the same as a physical disability. I get ok that maybe an amputation is not a 'medical condition' as such but this gives the impression that the wheelchair is the disability. No. It isn't. It's the tool that enables one to be MORE ABLE! To suggest there is a difference between having a medical condition and being physically disabled and that a wheelchair is one way to distinguish is beyond ridiculous. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm a wheelchair user, I'm physically disabled and because of a medical condition. Poor form NHS though unfortunately not out of character.

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jaydut said on 12 December 2010

Yes i have been told my 7 yr old son would benefit from some occupational therapy as he is autistic and has some problems with his fine motor skills. However despite 2 referals from a consultant he has been refused this because he is autistic. I find it incredible that you can promote this as beneficial to people with autism on an NHS site yet refuse NHS treatment to someone because they are autistic????

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