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Occupational therapy: area of practice

Occupational therapists work with people who are experiencing physical, psychological or social difficulties to help them live as independently as possible.

A graduate career in occupational therapy involves working with people experiencing physical, psychological or social difficulties to achieve the things they want to do in their daily lives. Occupational therapists can work with people of all ages and in a variety of different workplaces such as a person’s home, hospitals, day centres or schools.

Clients may need the help of an occupational therapist  for a one-off assessment or could require regular interaction for a period of weeks, months or even years depending on their needs. Therapists do not provide ‘care’ for their clients (as a nurse would) but rather provide therapeutic treatments and often work with people as a facilitator, encouraging them to overcome their problems themselves.

They’ll often offer advice about how to do things differently using specialist equipment, or by developing new skills and capabilities that will help people live as independently as possible.

A therapist's involvement could include:

  • teaching a person with a hand injury a different method for getting dressed
  • making adaptations to someone's home or workplace
  • liaising with a range of different people to ensure their client gets the support they need
  • helping people to develop new social networks

They usually work a conventional week but some jobs such as homelessness outreach or accident and emergency require more flexibility. Most occupational therapists will supervise other staff in addition to their client work and are often involved in research as well as education – lecturing in colleges or universities. They are principally employed by the NHS but also work in social services, private practice and a growing number of voluntary organisations.

Skills you'll require

  • Patience, empathy and compassion
  • The ability to work in a team with other health and social care professionals
  • Creativity and lateral thinking to get around obstacles
  • Great interpersonal skills

Starting out after graduation

The typical route into occupational therapy is to take a BSc in the subject. However, there may also be masters and diploma courses available. ‘Occupational Therapist’ is a protected title of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You will have to register with the HCPC before you can practise. You may also wish to join the British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists (BAOT/COT).

During training, occupational therapists  work with their own clients under close supervision so that they can hit the ground running as a new practitioner. However, they receive plenty of supervision and support from colleagues. As they become more familiar with the role, they soon work with a larger and more complex group of clients and become increasingly self-reliant.