What is Occupational Therapy?

OT student with child

Occupational therapy is the art and science of helping individuals and families develop purposeful activities (occupations) that improve the overall quality of their lives.

The philosophical base of occupational therapy has led to the evolution of many definitions of our practice. Some of these definitions are listed here to assist students in understanding and explaining to others the practice of occupational therapy.

"Occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of self-care, work, and play activities to increase independent function, enhance development, and prevent disability; may include adaptation of task or environment to achieve maximum independence and to enhance quality of life."
-Dictionary definition of occupational therapy adopted and approved by the Representative Assembly in April 1986

"Occupational therapy is the art and science of directing man's participation in selected tasks to restore, reinforce, and enhance performance; facilitate learning of those skills and functions essential for adaptation and productivity; diminish or correct pathology; and to promote and maintain health. Its fundamental concern is the capacity, throughout the life span, to perform with satisfaction to self and others those tasks and roles essential to productive living and to the mastery of self and the environment."
-Willard and Spackman's Occupational Therapy, H.L. Hopkins and H.D. Smith (Eds.), 1993

"Occupational therapy is the use of purposeful activity or interventions designed to achieve functional outcomes which promote health, prevent injury or disability, and which develop, improve, sustain or restore the highest possible level of independence of any individual who has an injury, illness, cognitive impairment, psychosocial dysfunction, mental illness, developmental or learning disability, physical disability or other disorder or condition. It includes assessment by means of skilled observation or evaluation through the administration and interpretation of standardized or nonstandardized tests and measurements."
-Definition of occupational therapy practice for state regulation by the American Occupational Therapy Association, 1994

Occupational therapy involves the "therapeutic use of work, self-care, and play activities to increase independent function, enhance development, and prevent disability. It may include adaptation of task or environment to achieve maximum independence and to enhance the quality of life."
-Official definition of occupational therapy as passed by the AOTA Executive Board, 1976.

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