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What is Occupational Therapy?

Samantha Shann - Occupational therapist

Samantha Shann

3rd October, 2022

What is an Occupational Therapist

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy, commonly abbreviated to “OT”, supports people to overcome or adapt to challenges in carrying out everyday tasks known as “occupations”. These occupations consist of tasks that we may do for work, self-care, or leisure. One of the fundamental values of occupational therapy is the recognition that occupations mean something different for everyone. Each person is unique, not just in what they do, but in how they do it.

Have a think about some of the activities that you engage in, for example, the action of getting up in the morning and making a cup of tea. How meaningful is this activity to you and how do you go about it in your own unique way? The answer will be different for everyone. In occupational therapy there is no right or wrong way to perform a task, the core focus is on supporting someone to live a full and meaningful life that aligns with their values and choices.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapy is a science-based discipline delivered by professionally trained occupational therapists. OT’s are registered and regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They work to a code of ethics, practice and conduct just as other medical professionals like doctors and nurses do. In the UK, to become an occupational therapist you must complete a pre-registration degree course from an approved university. All courses require that students undertake placements working with patients or clients under the supervision of a practice educator in a variety of clinical settings. Students must gain at least a thousand hours of practice to register with the HCPC. However, an OT’s education never truly ends as they are constantly learning and undertaking new training. To maintain their registration, occupational therapists must demonstrate a high level of safe clinical skills, experience in their field and commitment to continuous professional development. This is done on a two-yearly cycle, with the OT needing to provide detailed evidence of clinical development, reflection and professional suitability to the HCPC.

Woman wearing a pink top and hat gardening with a watering can

Where do Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational therapists are unique because they work across a vast range of health and care settings and support people of all ages. OTs can be found making a difference in hospitals, clinics, communities, schools, universities and hospices. You may also encounter occupational therapists working in the third sector with charities, or, with companies like Oak Tree Mobility, that provide equipment or training that supports occupational therapy services.

How to Know if You Need an Occupational Therapist

Some people may only require the support of an occupational therapist for a short time while they are unwell or until an injury has healed. Others may need long-term support until they become equipped with the skills and confidence needed to carry out daily tasks and work to regain their independence. For those living with long-term or progressive conditions such as motor neurone disease or Parkinson’s, support may be needed on an ongoing basis with regular reviews to ensure equipment or support continues to meet their needs.

What can an Occupational Therapist Help With?

Occupational therapists are skilled in task analysis, modification, home adaption, equipment provision, risk assessment and education. Their training and experience equip them to help individuals with any task, or occupation, that they may require support with. The services they provide, known as interventions, will vary to suit the needs of the individual. Here are a few examples of how an OT could support people experiencing a range of different ailments.

Woman using a wheelchair cooking in the kitchen

Woman using a wheelchair cooking in the kitchen

Head Injury or Stroke

For someone who has sustained a head injury or had a stroke, an OT can support their rehabilitation. A trained OT could provide support with cognitive function and re-training the brain to organise and process information. They can also help the individual to develop coping strategies and manage potential frustration around the changes that have occurred, helping them understand what has happened.


For individuals with an arthritic condition, an occupational therapist can teach new techniques to support their mobility. For example, they may teach new techniques to get in and out of bed or provide recommendations for mobility products to help them sit or stand more easily, such as a riser recliner.


Someone returning home from a long stay at the hospital may require assistance while they settle back into home life. They might require help with getting out of bed in the morning, bathing or with dressing. An occupational therapist can provide advice on what equipment and support would be needed for a safe return home, such as a profiling bed or support from a care provider.

Social Care

In social care an occupational therapist can support someone living at home who may be experiencing changes to their abilities through age or a long-term health condition like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia. Some individuals may also seek advice from an OT on how to best future-proof their home.


Child with occupational therapist working on motor skills

How Can You Access Support From an Occupational Therapist?

Depending on your needs and location, you may be able to access an occupational therapist via your GP or by contacting your local authority or council. There are also several private occupational therapy services available throughout the UK, like The OT Service. The OT Service is one of the UK’s foremost private occupational therapy companies, providing independent occupational therapy for individuals, case managers, solicitors, insurers, retailers, manufacturers, and businesses.

We hope that this article has answered your occupational therapist questions. Be sure to have a look at Sam Shann’s resource hub on the Oak Tree Mobility site for more tips from a trained occupational therapist.

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