The basic premise of occupational therapy is that an occupation is one of the core components of mental health and well-being, providing structure, time organization, and purpose. If one is limited by trauma, accident, disease, debilitating condition, hereditary illness, it may be hard to find a suitable occupation or one may no longer be able to pursue one’s previous occupation. Through therapy, which is often called “enablement”, occupational therapists help facilitate autonomy, learn how to find a suitable occupation or better engage in an occupation that fit their needs.

Origin of Occupational Therapy

The beginnings of occupational therapy are simply the age-old practice of taking care of the sick. However, at the end of the 18th century, occupational therapy really emerged. At the time, people with mental disorders were treated like prisoners and considered a dangerous nuisance to society. In 1793, Dr. Philippe Pinel was appointed “physician of the infirmaries” at Bicêtre Hospital. At the time, it housed about four thousand imprisoned men—criminals, petty offenders, syphilitics, pensioners and about two hundred mental patients. Philippe Pinel developed the “Moral Treatment and Occupation” principles that would offer compassion on how these people were treated. Around the same time, William Tuke, an English businessman, and a Quaker raised money and opened an institution for the mentally ill based on similar principles. It was called the York Retreat, formerly the York Lunatic Asylum. While Tuke’s approach was derided at first, it gradually became accepted, and today Pinel and Tuke are considered pioneers and visionaries.

How Occupational Therapy works

Occupational therapy involves helping patients who are mentally, physically, developmentally or emotionally challenged increase their motor neuron skills and reasoning capabilities. And it involves helping them find meaningful work. First, the condition of the patient must first be evaluated and assessed. Part of the process involves observation, and adjustment of the goals, work, and life plans according to the initial success.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy

1. Patient Education

Occupational therapy focuses on empowerment of the patient through education. People who were seriously injured will know what the changes will have to be made in order to adapt to their new condition. Acceptance and adaption are two of the key skills imparted for increased productivity and increased mental health.

2. Improved Motor Skills

It may be a new way to move around, a new skill, such as standing unaided, or a new way to express something. Family members are also encouraged to join these sessions so that they can help and offer support.

3. Developing Relationships

Many mental and physical challenges, e.g. autism, affect interpersonal relationships. Improved communication involves educating the patient, teaching him or her skills, teaching them how to manage expectations, or working with those he needs to communicate with.

4. Restoring Senses

some lose some of their senses and motor skills because of an accident or disease. Massage and exercise can help regain those lost skills or adjust to the difference and learn new ways to express or cope.

Occupational therapy is a form of rehabilitation medicine. It involves working with the affected person, their occupation and their environment. After an accident or debilitating condition, a patient may see both a physical and occupational therapist. The physical therapist will try to recover as much function on the affected part and the occupational therapist will try to develop new ways for the patient to use the affected body part.

Challenges of Occupational Therapy

1. Many variables

With occupational therapy, there are many variables to find the right approach for the person. While there are a number of models used, the dynamic between the therapist and patient is always different. A standard procedure of the occupational therapy cannot be created. As the occupational therapist might work with emotions, the dynamic between the person and occupational therapist is key and is dependent on circumstance.

2. Physical pain

Many branches of occupational therapy involve asking the person to push themselves physically. For example, an occupational therapist might work with a burn victim to help them strengthen and regain functionality. During the sessions, the patient may feel some pain when they are trying to develop new skills.

3. Prolonged engagement

Occupational therapy may challenge existing modes of thinking. It may ask the patient to engage in an activity for a long time before seeing any results. The therapist may also ask the patient to trust them for a prolonged period, while learning new skills or while waiting for the effects of new skills to show a positive result. During this time, support from family and friends are essential and will help determine a positive outcome.


Occupational therapy is a form of a rehabilitation medicine which aims to improve the lives of people by helping them engage in an occupation. It may require physical therapy, changing modes of thinking, learning new motor neuron or language or emotional skills, and a positive outcome may take several weeks, months or even years. However, the core tenants of occupational therapy are compassion, enablement, and autonomy, principles that have helped occupational therapists improve the lives of thousands, if not millions of people around the world.

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