How occupational therapy is used for rehabilitation  

Rehabilitation aims to improve your ability to carry out the everyday activities that have been affected by illness, injury or surgery.

Occupational therapy attempts to help you get the most out of life. As well as being able to complete everyday activities, there are other areas of your life that should also be included in your rehabilitation programme, particularly work and leisure.

Workplace rehabilitation

Workplace rehabilitation, or vocational rehabilitation, means helping someone with a health condition return to work or start working, or enabling them to carry on working. "Work" does not have to mean a paid role – you could be a full-time parent or a volunteer.

An occupational therapist could help by:

  • assessing your workplace
  • assessing your role at work
  • assessing your ability to complete work activities, and finding ways to assist you if necessary
  • finding ways to manage your condition while at work
  • providing additional training
  • finding a way to cope with problems like discrimination and prejudice
  • helping your employers manage your return to work and increasing awareness of your condition
  • monitoring your progress

Leisure rehabilitation

Leisure rehabilitation could cover any fun activity, such as taking up a hobby or attending social events.

Taking part in leisure activities can prevent people feeling isolated because of their condition, and improve their quality of life. While you need to be able to care for yourself and work, being able to take part in activities for fun is also important.

An occupational therapist may discuss what activities you enjoy, and find practical ways that may not always seem obvious, so that you can continue those activities.

For example, if you like going out to the shops but find it tiring, so a therapist may suggest a wheeled walker with a seat and basket. If you enjoy gardening but find some tasks difficult, a therapist can identify easier ways of carrying out those tasks using different techniques and specially adapted gardening tools.

Activity grading and graded exposure

One way your occupational therapist may encourage you to return to work or resume your hobbies is with activity grading.

Activity grading is a way of breaking down an activity you want to complete into stages that become increasingly more difficult.

For example, if your goal is to walk to work, but it is too far for you to do at once, this can be broken down.

On your first day, you can get the bus most of the way and then walk the last part. Each week, you could get off the bus a stop earlier and increase the distance you walk.

The activity becomes increasingly difficult as you gradually reach your goal of walking to work.

As you become more confident with an activity, you can progress to the next stage and eventually reach your goal.

Graded exposure is similar to activity grading, but is more focused on dealing with the emotional and psychological element of rehabilitation. It is used to help gradually build your confidence and establish meaningful routines that you may have otherwise avoided.

Page last reviewed: 23/08/2014

Next review due: 23/08/2017