Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

How does occupational therapy help?

Occupational therapy provides the skills for the job of living to help people lead productive and satisfying lives.

Occupational therapists consider occupation to be everything people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves (self-care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities (work/productivity).

Occupational therapy works to break down the barriers which impede individuals in their everyday activities. Occupational therapists examine not only the physical effects of an injury or disease, but also address the psycho-social, community and environmental factors that influence function.

To begin, an occupational therapist will try to find out why you cannot do what you would like or need to do…

Depending on your situation, an occupational therapists may check:

  • what you can and cannot do physically (this includes your strength, coordination, balance, or other physical abilities)
  • what you can and cannot do mentally (your memory, organization skills, coping strategies, or other mental abilities)
  • what materials you use to participate in the occupation (for example, work tools, furniture, cooking utensils, clothes, or other materials)
  • the social and emotional support available to you in your home, school, work and community
  • the physical setup of your house, school, classroom, work place, community, or other environment

Many occupational therapists use the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) which measures change in your ability to perform occupations over a period time. It measures how important the activity is to you and how satisfied you are with your performance in it. Read more about the COPM.

Depending on what the problem is, the occupational therapist can help you to solve it by:

1. helping you overcome your disability
2. adapting the material or equipment you use, or
3. recommending changes to the environments where you do your occupations

Many occupational therapists also work to prevent injuries by using strategies #2 (adapting the material or equipment you use) and #3 (recommending changes to the environments where you do your occupations).

1. Helping you overcome your disability

An occupational therapist may help you overcome your disability by:

A. Educating or instructing you on how to do things with the abilities you have

Some examples:

  • how to remember things when your memory is poor
  • how to dress or cook using one arm
  • how to manage your time and money
  • how to use public transit when you are having problems
  • how to get around in your community, while using a wheelchair
  • how to manage your stressors
  • how to advocate for an integrative community


B. Suggesting activities that will help you improve or maintain the abilities you have or are weak in.

Some examples:

improving your coping strategies
increasing your strength
increasing your confidence and belief in yourself
increasing your coordination
improving your concentration
minimizing or preventing deformity of your hands after an injury

2. Adapting the Materials You Use

The occupational therapist may adapt the materials you use in the occupations you want to do by making or recommending:

A. Changes in the things you use around the house

Some examples:

  • large push buttons on your telephone
  • can opener that can be used with only one hand
  • special key holder to make turning keys easier

B. Changes in the things you use in sports leisure, or recreation

Some examples:

  • a playing cards holder
  • a grasping cuff to help you hold a pool cue or a racquet
  • a knitting needle holder
  • wrist stabilizer

C. Changes in the things you use at work or school

Some examples:

  • a special chair to help you sit up straight
  • self-opening scissors
  • special hammers and other tools that are easier to use and prevent injury to hands and back
  • writing boards to help keep paper still

D. Changes in the things you use to take care of yourself

Some examples:

  • clothes with velcro ties
  • equipment that helps you put on your socks or stockings
  • built up handles on toothbrushes, forks, spoons, or knives to help you hold them
  • special bath or toilet seats
  • long handled and curved brushes for hair and bath

E. Changes in the things you use to get from place to place

Some examples:

  • recommend wheelchairs 
  • special seating and positioning for chairs to help sit right 
  • car modifications such as one-handed steering wheels or hand operated accelerators/brakes 
  • bicycles/tricycles modifications such as foot straps for pedals or seat support

3. Recommending Changes to the Environments Where You Do Your Occupations

A. Recommending changes to the physical layout of your work place, home, or school

Some examples:

  • wheelchair ramps
  • widening doorways
  • lowering/raising desk tops, counter tops, or cupboards
  • reorganization of living space

B. Recommending and finding out about the support in your community

Some examples:

  • self-help groups
  • community recreational programs
  • specialized public transportation
  • funding agencies for transportation needs, special equipment such as wheelchairs, bath seats, or specialized computer equipment

C. Working with the people in your community by

  • providing education about a disability to the family, teachers, parish members, employers, or employees

D. Working with the goverment to encourage people to stay healthy

Some examples:

  • request funding for special equipment
  • request funding for programs such as exercise programs for Seniors, or a work training program for people with physical or mental disabilities
  • respond to legislation that may affect your health care
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