Occupational Therapy: Live a NO Limit Life

By Alexandra Burns, BA, RYT, OTS

NJOTA Student Member

I’ve always had a desire to meet people at the crossroads of their deepest fears and seemingly insurmountable limitations, grab their hand, and say, “Let’s go. We’re getting through this”.We all face these moments throughout our lives. Moments where illness, injury, or disability, either physical or mental, create that inner voice that only knows weakness and only sees boundaries. Slowly, habits and routines we once enjoyed seem to fade. Roles we hold may change, and our day-to-day activities become exasperating. This desire to help people of any age, with any health condition or disability, to live as independently and functionally as possible doing what they want to do, is why I chose to become an occupational therapist.

You see, the truth is, your life is shaped by occupations. Occupations encompass the everyday activities you want or need to participate in. In fact, everything you do can be categorized as a particular occupation! Eating, driving, spending time with family or friends, taking a yoga class, having sex, managing your home and finances and playing with your dog are all examples of occupations. By assessing a person’s unique environments, skills and abilities, and support systems, occupational therapists can creatively adapt and/or modify any activity in order to promote function and independence in valued occupations.

Last year while presenting my research at the AOTA National Conference in Chicago, I had the opportunity to attend the keynote address given by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. The newlyweds were survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. After the horrific event, both Jessica and Patrick lost each of their left legs. They openly and bravely shared with thousands of future and current practitioners the pivotal role occupational therapy had in their rehabilitation. From adapting and modifying their urban apartment lifestyle, to helping them bathe their service dog, to assisting Jessica in making the harrowing decision to amputate her remaining limb after several failed limb salvage surgeries, their occupational therapist met them at every goal they wished to achieve. By assisting Jessica and Patrick overcome the physical and psychological imprints this devastating tragedy left on them, their OT helped them move on to the next chapter in their inspiring lives.

What exactly is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is an allied health profession that uses occupations to promote participation in a person’s role, routines, and habits within his or her lives. As OTs, we assist our clients across the lifespan in doing what they need and want to do in their everyday lives despite physical, psychological, and cognitive limitations. OTs use scientific research and evidence-based practice to develop holistic, client-centered interventions in their approach to treatment.

The future of Occupational Therapy

The pendulum of health care is swinging in the direction of client-centered care. Now, more than ever before, clients are seeing electronic documentation implemented through the use of online portals. Here, practitioners and clients can access their medical records and share important information. Occupational therapists are holistic health care practitioners who have an important role in health promotion and prevention.

Research has shown that occupational therapy supports independence and safety, quality of life, engagement in leisure activities, and overall increased function. OTs have a high potential to be successful in primary care. OTs have extensive holistic knowledge of health promotion, human development, disease processes, use of adaptive equipment, and lifestyle and behavior modifications. Furthermore, OTs can have an impactful role in implementing programs to address broader current societal matters such as opioid addiction, aging in place, falls prevention, and homelessness. The month of April 2017 marks the centennial of our unique and gratifying profession. It is our hope to see another 100 more prosperous and influential years.