What is occupational therapy?

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy has been developing since 100 BC when Asclepiades, a Greek Physician, used massage and exercise to treat patients with mental illness. Progressing particularly during the 18th century in Europe, the profession was not formalised until around the beginning of the First World War. It draws primarily from the fields of medicine, psychology, physiology and sociology. It is a scientifically holistic profession with a uniquely broad approach.

Occupational therapists work with wide variety of individuals who suffer from physically, mentally, developmentally, and/or emotionally disabling conditions that affect an individual’s ability to engage in the type of life they wish to lead. This is much more than just a person’s profession. For example a 6 year old child’s occupations are to play, to eat, to dress themselves, to be a friend and a student.

Occupational therapists use analysis of physical, environmental, psychosocial, mental, political and cultural factors to identify barriers to occupational performance. Neuromusculoskeletal function, sensory and perceptual function, cognitive and psychosocial function are assessed.

Evidence based treatment methods are used to enable the client to improve, restore or maintain the significant activities in their daily life.

Occupational Therapists working in the area of soft tissue treatment focus on the interrelationship between occupation and soft tissue function. These issue may often be preventing an individual from fully participating in their daily occupations.

Occupational Therapists working in the area of paediatrics assess the child’s occupational function compared to the typical developmental norms for their age and expectations of their context.



Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. (2012). Profile of occupational  therapy practice in Canada. Ottawa, ON: CAOT.

Townsend, E.A. & Polatajko, H. J. (2013). Enabling occupation II: Advancing an occupational therapy vision for health, well-being & justice through occupation, 2nd Ed.. Ottawa, ON: CAOT.