Role of Occupational Therapist in a Rehabilitation Team

Original Editors Naomi O'Reilly and ReLAB-HS

Top Contributors - Naomi O'Reilly, Rucha Gadgil, Ashmita Patrao and Kim Jackson      

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Occupational therapy is a client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation, which refers to the practical and purposeful activities that allow people to live independently and have a sense of identity. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life, which include day-to-day tasks such as self-care, work or leisure. Occupational therapists work with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation and/or the environment to better support their occupational engagement. [1]

Occupational therapy takes a “whole-person approach” to both mental and physical health, and well-being of a person to optimise function and enable individuals to achieve their full potential. This is achieved through practical support to increase independence by empowering the individual to overcome barriers preventing them from doing the occupations that matter to them, and focusing on activities of daily living (ADLs) because they are the cornerstone of independent living. Occupational therapists believe that participation can be supported or restricted by the physical, affective or cognitive abilities of the individual, the characteristics of the occupation, or the physical, social, cultural, attitudinal and legislative environments. Therefore, occupational therapy practice is focused on enabling individuals to change aspects of their person, the occupation, the environment, or some combination of these to enhance occupational participation.[2]

An occupational therapists role is to support individuals to overcome the effects of decreased functioning caused by illness, ageing and/or accident so that they can carry out everyday tasks or occupations, be it physical, psychological, social and environmental. This support can make a real difference giving individuals a renewed sense of purpose, opening up new horizons, and changing the way they feel about the future.

Occupational Therapy is governed internationally by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, which is the global voice for occupational therapy and sets the standard for its practice. Occupational therapy is an autonomous profession, which means they can operate as members of a health service provider or rehabilitation teams or as independent practitioners who can accept referrals from a range of sources, including from an individual themselves (self-referral) or from other people involved with that individual.

Governance[edit | edit source]

Occupational Therapy is governed internationally by the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT), which is a global network of 105 member organisations, representing 580,000 occupational therapists globally. WFOT promotes occupational therapy as an art and science internationally and supports the development, use and practice of occupational therapy worldwide, demonstrating its relevance and contribution to society. The federation also set the standard for occupational therapy practice internationally and promote excellence through research and education. [4]

Occupational Therapy is an autonomous profession, which means they can operate as members of health service provider or rehabilitation teams or as independent practitioners who can accept referrals from a range of sources, including from an individual themselves (self-referral) or from other people involved with that individual.[4]

Where Occupational Therapists Work[edit | edit source]

Occupational therapy is practised in a wide range of public, private and voluntary sector settings, such as, the person’s home environment; schools; workplaces; health centres; supported accommodation; housing for seniors; rehabilitation centres; hospitals; and forensic services with adults and children across all ages with a wide range of conditions; most commonly those who have difficulties due to a mental health, physical or learning disabilities.. Clients are actively involved in the occupational therapy process. The outcomes are client-driven and diverse and measured in terms of participation, satisfaction derived from occupational participation and / or improvement in occupational performance. The majority of countries regulate occupational therapy as a health profession and require specific university level education. [2]

Knowledge and Skills for Clinical Practice[edit | edit source]

Occupational therapists have a broad education in the medical, social behavioural, psychological, psychosocial and occupational sciences which equips them with the attitudes, skills and knowledge to work collaboratively with people, individually or in groups or communities. Occupational therapists can work with all people, including those who have an impairment of body structure or function owing to a health condition, or who are restricted in their participation or who are socially excluded owing to their membership of social or cultural minority groups. [2] In partnership with the individual and their support structures, occupational therapists use their professional knowledge & practical skills, together with thinking skills & skills for interaction to identify what is limiting an individual’s movement & function, recognising the impact of physical, psychological, social & environmental factors to help that individual decide how to best address their needs. [7]

  • Focus primarily on the person's occupation. Occupational therapists use the term ‘occupation’ to describe all the things we do to take care of ourselves and others; socialise and have fun; and work and contribute to our community/society.
  • Our occupations are the activities that fill up our days and that give meaning and a sense of purpose to our daily lives.  Occupational therapists understand how important these everyday activities are to all of us and are experts in enabling you to live life to the fullest despite challenges, limitations and disability.
  • In the case of children, the focus will be on enabling participation in childhood occupations such as play and school and supporting development and emerging independence skills.
  • Occupational Therapists understand how illness, injury, disability or challenging life events can affect people's ability to do the day-to-day things that are important for them and know how to support them to reach their maximum level of independence and autonomy.
  • Occupational Therapists are experts at assessing how different health conditions can affect people's abilities and helping people to overcome or work around the difficulties that are affecting their daily occupations.
  • Occupational Therapy focuses on people's strengths and the therapy is always guided by the client's preferences (or those of their family in the case of children).
  • Occupational Therapy is person centered and helps people live their lives in a way that is meaningful and satisfying by tailoring a programme that responds to their unique situation and needs.


Patients are evaluated for limitations that require intervention and for strengths that can be used to compensate for weaknesses. Limitations may involve motor function, sensation, cognition, or psychosocial function. Examiners determine which activities (eg, work, leisure, social, learning) patients want or need help with. Patients may need help with a general type of activity (eg, social) or a specific activity (eg, attending church), or they may need to be motivated to do an activity.

Occupational therapists may also assess the home for hazards and make recommendations to ensure home safety (eg, removing throw rugs, increasing hallway and kitchen lighting, moving a night table within reach of the bed, placing a family picture on a door to help patients recognize their room).

Determining when driving is a risk and whether driver retraining is indicated is best done by occupational therapists with specialized training. Information that can help elderly drivers and their caregivers in coping with changing driving abilities is available from the American Occupational Therapy Association and the American Association for Retired Persons .

Assessment and Identification[edit | edit source]

The occupational therapy process is based on initial and repeated assessments. The occupational therapist together with the person they are working with focus on individual and environmental abilities and problems related to activities in the person's daily life. Assessment includes the use of standardised procedures, interviews, observations in a variety of settings and consultation with significant people in the person's life.

Initial assessment will involve the occupational therapist talking to an individual to find out how their illness, injury or disability is affecting them and their occupations; the everyday activities they do to take care of themselves and others; socialise and have fun; and work and contribute to community/society.

  • Get you to explain what has been happening in your life and the difficulties you are experiencing
  • Involve you in activities that will demonstrate the difficulties you are having doing activities of daily living
  • Use formal tests and Occupational Therapy assessment
  • Do a home visit to see how you are managing with your everyday occupations at home
  • Other types of assessment, e.g. a group activity


When the assessment is complete the occupational therapist will work with the individual to identify goals that Occupational Therapy can help them achieve. They will listen to what is important and see if they can either, help restore their ability to do everyday occupations, or find another way of achieving your goal.

Intervention[edit | edit source]

The results of the assessment are the basis of the plan which includes short and long-term aims of treatment. The plan should be relevant to the person's development stage, habits, roles, life-style preferences and the environment. Intervention focuses on programs that are person oriented and environmental. These are designed to facilitate the performance of everyday tasks and adaptation of settings in which the person works, lives and socialises. Examples include teaching new techniques and providing equipment which facilitate independence in personal care, reducing environmental barriers and providing resources to lessen stress.

Cooperation[edit | edit source]

Occupational therapists recognise the importance of teamwork. Cooperation and coordination with other professionals, families, caregivers and volunteers are important in the realisation of their holistic approach.

Resources[edit | edit source]

World Federation of Occupational Therapy[edit | edit source]

References [edit | edit source]

  1. World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) Definition of Occupational Therapy (2012)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT); Statement on Occupational Therapy (2010)
  3. Physiopedia.Samantha Shann - What is Occupational Therapy? Available from: https://vimeo.com/588893279/548959d5bd[last accessed 30/07/21]
  4. 4.0 4.1 World Federation of Occupational Therapists. About Occupational Therapy. Available from: https://www.wfot.org/about (accessed 21/08/2021)
  5. Hannah Spencer UK OT. HS #OTin30Seconds October 2020. Available from: https://youtu.be/ENQCDQC8ePc[last accessed 30/06/2021]
  6. The American Occupational Therapy Association. What Can Occupational Therapy Do For You?. Available from: https://youtu.be/jwwOXlLYQ4Q[last accessed 30/06/2021]
  7. World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) Definition of Occupational Therapy by Member Organisations (2017)