April is Occupational Therapist Month. During this month, we celebrate the many ways in which occupational therapists help change the lives of their patients every day. We continue to share information gained, learn about successful treatments, and help build a strong and supportive professional community.
If you are new to occupational therapy, you may have several questions about how to be successful in your career. To get you started, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the most frequently asked questions from other first-time occupational therapists.
How do I create effective goals for my patients?
An occupational therapist ultimately helps individuals develop and maintain the necessary skills to succeed in daily life. Most of your patients will either have experienced a debilitating injury, been recently diagnosed with a life-altering illness, or are coping with a permanent disability. Your job is to help facilitate their recovery to a point where they can perform basic, everyday tasks. Many occupational therapists create a list of goals for the patient to strive to achieve throughout the course of treatment. This list can be challenging as no two patients are alike, and everyone responds to therapy differently.
To select adequate goals for your patient, include enough detail to help keep track of progress. Important details for goals include the date the occupational therapist hopes the patient will perform a particular task, the amount of prompting necessary to perform the task, and the frequency to see the task performed. Don’t be afraid to work with your colleagues early in your career to come up with creative goals for particularly challenging patients, or borrow goals that might be beneficial to your own patients, too.
Do occupational therapists make diagnoses?
In short, occupational therapists do NOT make diagnoses. Instead, occupational therapists use their education, knowledge and expertise to craft treatment plans for patients, based on a diagnosis already given by another healthcare professional. An occupational therapist will often list observations they make about a patient’s sensory processing or overall health. These observations are used to explain why an occupational therapist made a modification in the treatment or assigned a goal. You may also describe concerns about a patient’s overall health, but those observations do not equate to a formal diagnosis.
What tools should occupational therapists keep in their office?
Many new occupational therapists wonder how they can arrange their office to better serve their clients’ needs. An occupational therapist usually has tools on hand that specifically relate to the skills you’re trying to help a patient develop. However, some occupational therapists wonder how they can be even more prepared, so that their patients stay relaxed, diffuse any stress and maintain focus. Overall, you want to create a safe space for your patients to come and improve their skills
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your office an inviting and soothing place for your patients. A soft seating area with plenty of cushions or a comforting blanket is a great start. You can create an ideal environment with calming lights and slow, relaxing music. Many occupational therapists use scent diffusers or aromatherapy as well. If you frequently work with children, you should consider keeping a small stock of fidget toys or picture books, especially ones that are geared toward relaxation. For the adults, you can store instructional cards or brochures explaining deep breathing exercises or meditation techniques.
With these tools, you will not only help your patients avoid reaching a high level of stress while they undergo a therapy session, but you will also be prepared to help them return to a relaxed state if they become overwhelmed.
Are there different areas of occupational therapy that I can focus on?
There are several types of occupational therapy, and many OTs choose to focus their practice in some of these areas.
For example, geriatric occupational therapists usually work with seniors who have developed difficulty performing daily activities due to old age, or must re-learn how to care for themselves after a health crisis, such as a stroke. On the other end of the spectrum, pediatric OTs typically work with children who are learning to live with disabilities, mental health disorders, learning disabilities or severe injuries.
Another focus area is skills-based, such as transportation, eating, mobility or household modification to support the development of the patient.
Finally, some occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages, but concentrate on either physical rehabilitation or mental health therapy.
Occupational therapy is an exceptionally rewarding career that helps individuals become independent and successful in society. There can be a lot to learn at the beginning of your career, but with these tips, you can start off on the right foot.