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What are Occupational Therapists and What Do They Do?

An occupational therapist (OT for short) is a healthcare professional who works with people of all ages who live with many varying conditions which in some part, restrict or impact their daily living activities.

OTs can make a real difference to a person’s life, as they diagnose and focus on developing, recovering and maintaining the daily living and working activities of people with many different challenges and help them find ways to overcome them.

An occupational therapist’s goal is to help a person maintain their independence and improve their quality of life as much as possible. They work with people and assistive technology, assessing, identifying and recommending many different kinds of daily living aids, from equipment for the bathroom like grab rails to products for the kitchen, such as jar openers, to general disability aids like chair raisers, to help a person keep their independence, making everyday life that little bit easier. Occupational therapists help with rehabilitation from an illness, too.

A woman with blonde hair and wearing a white top, is smiling happily out at the reader – very approachable and confident. The background is just a grey colour

Collaboration with Other Professionals

OTs collaborate with doctors, other therapists such as physiotherapists, as well as health care providers, formulating an action plan for such times when, for example, a person is going to be discharged from a hospital back to their home or when a person just needs  extra support with daily living tasks like bathing, washing, cooking, getting dressed or moving around.

Set in a kitchen, a man sits in a wheelchair, while a woman is sitting on a chair. The two are engaged in conversation

Duties of an Occupational Therapist

• Diagnose and treat patients with a variety of health conditions.
• Collaborate with doctors and other healthcare providers to create a cohesive action plan.
• Perform ongoing assessments.
• Help adults and children gain independence through various activities and therapies.
• Assist people with short-term or long-term care needs.
• Suggest adaptions to homes and workplaces so people can operate independently.

The occupational therapy profession is built on the idea that people of all ages can lead rich, meaningful and productive lives, free from the limitations of health conditions and disabilities.

Becoming an OT is a highly rewarding career choice for those who want to make a real difference in the lives of others.

Requirements to Become an Occupational Therapist

OTs must pass several exams and have clinical experience before working as a certified occupational therapist.

Most OTs are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT).

One of the key qualities of an OT is patience. OTs also need to have excellent critical thinking skills with a keen eye and attention to detail, as well as being compassionate with excellent interpersonal skills and able to work well under pressure.

An occupational therapist uses their knowledge of the human body and human behaviour to help people regain their independence. Many OTs take a ‘whole person’ approach when assessing people, meaning  they look at physical and mental health as well as overall wellbeing.

An elderly man is sitting in a chair. Anther man (wearing

Frequently Asked Questions

Occupational therapy services are often available free of charge via the NHS and social services. There are also private and independent OTs who can provide their expert advice, if an NHS/local council OT is unavailable.

OTs work in various settings, from local health centres, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, hospices, care homes and research facilities. They also work in private practices or have their own business and offer their services across the country, often via Zoom or some other app/software.

When meeting an Occupational Therapist, they will discuss any challenges you, or your loved one, face daily, such as dressing or washing issues. They will work with you to establish your needs/requirements and provide an evaluation of any recommended minor adaptations to the home or equipment which could help. The approach will be one of understanding, and the OT will offer practical and workable solutions.

The NHS is under a lot of pressure, and with extensive waiting lists for appointments and long-drawn-out periods for medical referrals, you may feel that you need to take a different approach and find another way to find support and help more quickly.

You might feel you need some guidance at home – ideas on how to move around better, or help on how to get safely out of the bath, or a way of getting dressed, and you probably just don’t know what to do about it, or what products are available.

A chat/meeting with an occupational therapist or someone used to working with such equipment can help with the above and more.

Occupational therapists are highly-skilled people and can usually find a way or an alternative technique for a person to perform an everyday task and activity that has become difficult due to age or a medical condition.

OTs work with a wide range of ages and many kinds of physical illnesses and disabilities. For example, following a health issue, or an accident, an OT can help a person to improve basic and essential motor functions where it has become difficult to do activities like dressing, cooking or using a computer.

The Elderly

Many occupational therapists spend a lot of their time helping older adults. Along with their carers, OTs propose aids to help the elderly or infirm with day-to-day tasks.

OTs will also suggest appropriate adaptations to a person’s home to help them overcome hazards and to minimise the risk of slips, falls and other accidents.


Occupational therapists also help children who may have special needs, assessing a child’s capabilities and suggest appropriate equipment or therapy to help the child with daily challenges. 

Because of the breadth of knowledge an OT has, they may also propose early intervention therapy services for babies and toddlers with developmental delays or at risk of developmental delays. This may involve helping the child develop social or listening skills or learning daily routines such as washing. 

Sometimes, OTs will assist school-age children to participate as fully as possible in educational activities and work with individuals and small groups. Sometimes they may advise teachers and help with the development of a special needs curriculum.


Occupational therapists can also help in the workplace where an illness or a medical condition impacts on a person’s daily working life. In these instances, the OT tends to go to the work place, do an assessment, and then work with both the person and the person’s employer on any suggested modifications.

During an assessment, the Occupational Therapist will probably ask you several questions about your health, mobility, and how you manage various day-to-day tasks. 

The focus is likely to be on the main things you find difficult, for example, getting in and out of the bath or standing in the kitchen to prepare food.

Whilst a virtual and remote occupational therapy assessment can cover most things, certain areas would be unsafe to assess remotely. So, this is when a more specific review or a face-to-face visit is needed. Some examples of this would be:

• Bespoke specialist seating

• Moving and handling equipment, including hoists, slings, standing aids and slide sheets

• Major adaptations to your property, including ground floor extensions

• Individuals with highly complex needs or severe cognitive impairment.