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Published on April 24, 2019

Gundersen St. Joseph's Occupational Therapy Department

Occupational Therapists and their assistants do more than just rehabilitate injured workers

By Cory Frederick, OTR; Erin Finnegan, OTR; Marnie Hofmeister-Pooley, COTA; and Ashley Thayer, PT.

The profession of Occupational Therapy has been in existence in the United States since the end of World War I. War has a way of creating a need for physical, as well as mental, rehabilitation. The profession is not well understood, in part, because of its name.

When most people in this country hear the word occupation, they think of jobs. Many may incorrectly assume that occupational therapists (OTs) only rehabilitate injured workers. While it is true that OTs can do that, the profession is much broader than that.

If you look at the broadest definition for the word occupation, it includes all daily tasks one engages in. This could include everything from using the toilet to performing your job tasks. For young children, their main occupation is play. OTs can help to promote age appropriate play behaviors. For school-aged children, their main occupation is school. OTs promote optimal engagement and success in the school environment.

OTs seek to restore an individual's balance of self-care, work, leisure and even sleep. They do this by engaging people with physical and mental illness or with a disability in graded, purposeful, and/or adapted tasks (occupations) in any environment they need help in, to maximize their overall independence.

Human beings can have different kinds of disabilities, you may find OTs working in schools, home health services, mental health facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, community based residential homes, and in industry. OTs may use some of the same techniques to rehabilitate people as a physical therapist (PT) or a behavioral therapist. However, OTs are particularly well trained in adapting tasks and environments to enable people of any age with physical or mental disabilities to function at their highest level.

If you are a creative problem solver and you like helping people, occupational therapy may be a profession for you. Would you like to learn more? Talk to one of the OT staff at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital in Hillsboro. Job shadow experiences can be arranged at (608) 489-8260

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Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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