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What does an Occupational Therapist do?

by Emily Gorsky
Posted: October 25, 2019

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Occupational Therapy is a field in the allied health care sector that focuses on helping people stay active and independent in their everyday lives. Occupational therapy refers to assisting people in three broad categories or ‘occupations’.

These are:

  1. Leisure: Refers to activities that are relaxing or enjoyable such as playing sport, reading or painting.
  2. Self-care: Refers to personal needs such as showering, eating or using the bathroom.
  3. Productivity: These are daily occupations that allow people to contribute to their community such as studying, working or parenting.

Read on to learn more about the role of an occupational therapist as well as how to start your career in occupational therapy if this is an area that interests you.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

An Occupational Therapist is responsible for helping injured, ill or disabled patients to regain their ability to perform the skills needed for daily living and working. They support people who have lost their ability to perform these skills due to mental or physical impairments.

Occupational Therapists typically work as part of a team that can include physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists or counsellors and community support workers. The main purpose of their role is to evaluate, assess and guide their patients to help aid their recovery or make their lives easier.

Occupational Therapists can work in a variety of health care settings including nursing, mental health or disability care; specialising in children all the way through to the elderly.

Occupational Therapists working in educational settings typically evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify the classroom to accommodate children with disabilities and help children participate effectively in school. They may also provide early intervention therapy for children who are experiencing developmental delays.

Occupational Therapists can also help create functional work environments for their patients. They evaluate the work space, suggest modifications and collaborate with the patient’s employer on making changes to the patient’s work environment.

What are the duties and responsibilities of an Occupational Therapist?

The day to day tasks and responsibilities of an Occupational Therapist will vary depending on the types of patients they have and the patient’s unique needs. However, here are some of the main duties often performed by an Occupational Therapist:

  • Review patients’ medical history and observe their condition
  • Evaluate patients' ability to perform certain tasks
  • Liaise with patients, their families and other medical personnel to provide holistic care
  • Develop a treatment plan for patients and identify specific goals to help them work towards
  • Guide patients to perform tasks
  • Demonstrate exercises that can help improve performance and relieve pain from chronic conditions
  • Assess a patient’s home or workplace to identify improvements based on their specific needs
  • Educate and inform a patient’s family or employer about how to accommodate them
  • Demonstrate how to use adaptive equipment that will help patients with daily living
  • Assess patients' progress against their goals and prepare reports for healthcare providers

How to be a qualified Occupational Therapist?

As of 1 July 2012, all occupational therapists working in Australia are required to be registered to practice. This registration process is operated through the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia (OTBA).

If you want to work as an Occupational Therapist, having the right qualifications is also important and will help open doors to careers in allied health assistance, occupational therapy assistance, paediatric Occupational Therapy and similar career options.

Open College’s HLT43015 Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance (Occupational Therapy) is a nationally recognised qualification that will teach you all the practical skills you’ll need to know including how to communicate and build relationships with patients and other medical personnel, use assistive equipment and Occupational Therapies to help rehabilitate patients and monitor their progress. You will also learn administrative duties such as maintaining client records and organising appointments.

This course can also lead you to further study so you can apply for more senior positions and enjoy a higher salary.

If you’re interested in working as an occupational therapist, considering studying HLT43015 Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance (Occupational Therapy) with Open Colleges.



Emily Gorsky

Emily is a freelance Writer focusing on career, education and personal finance. She strongly believes in living a balanced life. Her mission is to inspire others to engage in self-motivated learning and build their own path to success.

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