What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) focuses on improving people’s ability to complete everyday life activities (occupations). One goal of occupational therapy is to increase a person’s independence.  Another goal is to increase a person’s satisfaction with their roles at home, school, work, and the community.

Your Occupational Therapist will evaluate what you want to do and develop a plan to help you achieve your goal. This may mean that you practice the activity to improve your skills in that area.  It may also mean that you learn a new way to complete the activity1.

What does a typical occupational therapy session look like?

Occupational therapy sessions will look different depending on the needs of each person.  Often, the Occupational Therapist will use methods to prepare you for an activity.  These methods might include strengthening, stretching, heating muscle tissues, or stimulating muscles and nerves.  Once you are physically ready to participate, you may practice getting in and out of your bed, wheelchair, or a shower.

Some other basic areas that an Occupational Therapist may work on with you include:

  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Grooming
  • Feeding
  • Toileting

Once basic skills are mastered, you may begin to work on instrumental activities of daily living such as:

  • Shopping
  • Cleaning
  • Handling money
  • Cooking
  • Taking medications
  • Getting around the community
  • Caring for personal health
  • Caring for others

The Occupational Therapist will provide you with physical support and cues to help you retrain your mind and body to complete activities safely.  You will learn the best method and tools given your personal strengths and limitations.

What kind of training does an Occupational Therapist have?

Before 2007, you could become an Occupational Therapist with a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational therapy.  Today, in order to become an Occupational Therapist, you need to complete your Master’s degree, as well as six months of supervised fieldwork.  After finishing fieldwork, graduates must pass a test given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).  In Michigan, Occupational Therapists must also be registered and licensed to practice.


  1. American Occupational Therapy Association. Scope of Practice. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2009;63.