When Should You See an Occupational Therapist?

You should see an occupational therapist (OT) when an injury, illness or disability is preventing you from participating in your daily activities , be it getting dressed, attending work or school, or engaging in sports or hobbies – anything you want or need to do. 

It doesn’t matter what is preventing you from doing these things, because occupational therapists (OTs) treat the whole person. OTs can address your medical and physical limitations, but they will also look at your thinking, emotions, social supports and your environment (home, community and workplace/ school).

Here are some examples of how occupational therapists can help:

For Song, a woman with mental health concerns, an occupational therapist might:
Picture of a girl

        • Help replace unhealthy activities, such as substance abuse, with healthy, meaningful activities.
        • Learn more about her skills, interests, values, and strengths in order to help her maintain, modify or find appropriate employment.
        • Introduce activities that teach valuable skills (for example, social skills training with a peer support group).
        • Help structure lives and organize daily activities so that she can balance everything they want, need or are expected to do.


For William, a boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder, an occupational therapist might:

  • Learn more about his skills and create a plan to help him participate in his daily routine. 
  • Help him set goals related to play, social interactions, attention, physical skills, self-care, or other things that are important to him.
  • Support learning and participation by helping him regulate his emotions and behaviour.
  • Make changes to his home, school and community environment that support him to take part in activities that are meaningful to him.

For Cali, a woman with a palliative diagnosis, an occupational therapist might:
Elderly woman

        • Support her to engage in the activities that are important to her and provide a sense of purpose.
        • Work with Cali to manage and work through her emotions, such as stress and anxiety, by teaching relaxation and mindfulness techniques
        • Help ensure she is positioned well in her bed and wheelchair and has the necessary equipment to prevent wounds and ensure maximum comfort.
        • Advocate for Cali to die with dignity, free of pain, surrounded by her loved ones, in a setting of her choice.


For Sarah, an aging woman who wants more than anything to remain at home with her husband, an occupational therapists might: Elderly woman with husband

  • Make simple changes to her house that will allow her to continue to safely use her bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom.
  • Work with Sarah and her husband to figure out what household jobs need doing, and how they can best do them together.
  • Connect Sarah with community resources and supports, such as a volunteer to help with the laundry and a grocery delivery service.

Check out some more real life stories

Occupational therapists can also help prevent illness and injury from happening in the first place.

For example, occupational therapists help to:

  • Prevent falls, the most common preventable injury in Canada
  • Prevent or lessen the severity of motor vehicle accidents by ensuring drivers are well fit to their vehicles, and providing education and adaptations to support safe driving
  • Addressing workplace health, such preventing repetitive strain injuries, reducing absenteeism by supporting workplace mental health, and helping employees manage work-life balance.
  • Make our homes, communities, and products accessible to everyone through universal design
Copyright 2016 Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists
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