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What Occupational Therapists Do

What do occupational therapists do?

Various health issues can pose barriers to participating in daily activities.

Occupational therapists help people to:

  • learn new ways of doing things
  • regain skills and develop new ones
  • use materials or equipment that makes life easier, or
  • adapt their environment to work better for them.

These solutions help people to do as much as they can – safely and effectively – at home, at school, at work or in other settings.

The word “occupational” in occupational therapy can be misleading. This profession is not about vocational counseling or work training.

Occupational therapists are health care professionals who help people to resume or maintain participation in a variety of tasks – their jobs, leisure and social activities, getting around, caring for themselves and their home, and much more.

Occupational therapists often work on a team with physiotherapists, but the two roles are distinct. Physiotherapists help people restore physical function; occupational therapists focus on how that function affects the ability to do the things that are important to them.

Examples of occupational therapist roles

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages - infants to seniors - in many different ways.  Here are a few examples:

  • Working with children and teachers in a classroom to help children develop skills such as handwriting or computer use or to provide strategies to manage behaviours – skills that will make it easier for students to learn and thrive in school.

  • Working with patients admitted to hospital following a stroke or brain injury to assess and treat cognitive impairment – problems with the ability to think, remember or communicate – to help patients recover from or manage issues related to their condition.

  • Working with clients with mental illness in outpatient programs, to assist people living with schizophrenia or bipolar disorders to manage their conditions so they can live independently at home in the community.

  • Working with clients to identify and purchase equipment, such as wheelchairs or bathroom safety devices, to ensure clients can safely return to or remain at home when their physical abilities have changed as a result of a condition such as multiple sclerosis or arthritis.

  • Working with clients following a workplace or motor vehicle injury to determine what the client may need in the future to be able perform their daily activities.

  • Working with clients, who have experienced a change in their physical or mental abilities, to return to work by adapting how they do their job, what type of job they do or making changes to the workplace environment.

Where occupational therapists work

As health care professionals, occupational therapists work in a wide range of settings.

Settings include: hospitals, clinics, care facilities, rehabilitation centres/programs, nursing homes, recreation centres, schools, home care, private practice, vocational programs, insurance companies, health promotion, disability prevention/management, accessibility programs, and more.

For more on the roles of occupational therapists and careers in the field, please visit the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists or the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists, which are advocacy/professional groups.

Educational requirements

To become registered by the College to practice in Ontario, people need:

  • a Bachelor of Science degree or Master of Science in Occupational Therapy obtained in Ontario; or
  • an academic qualification considered equivalent by the College's Registration Committee; plus
  • a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised fieldwork (on-the-job training) or clinical practicum (observation and experience) as part of their education program.

See the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists for their list of accredited university programs in Canada.