I can't tell you how many times I heard that, or a similar, question in the past 20 odd years. Some people ask it to be funny, but most are serious.
"But grandma just got a new hip! She doesn't need a job!"
"That's like Physical Therapy, right?"
No. Similar. If it helps you understand better....
Sigh. I spend more time explaining Occupational Therapy than I actually get to work as an Occupational Therapist.
If you ask a group of OTs what an OT does, you will get a different answer from each one. It is one of those hard to define professions because there are so many facets. There are OTs in hospitals, rehabs, nursing homes, schools, mental health facilities, prisons, and community outreaches to name a few. OTs work with physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and developmental challenges. We work with everyone from premature babies to elderly. Some OTs work with people who have hands and arm injuries, joint replacements, home modification, artificial limbs, biomechanics, learning disabilities, health coaching, life coaching, arthritis, balance issues, swelling, strokes, Parkinsons, cancer, swallowing, substance abuse and the list goes on.
Do I do all of those things? No. I have experience in many of those areas, but there are many areas I have never worked in. For example, I am not a pediatric therapist. I have treated children with hand or arm injuries, but I am not skilled in evaluating or treating developmental delays in conditions like autism or cerebral palsy. It would be like asking an English teacher to teach a Chemistry class.
So what is T's definition of OT, you ask? OT helps people overcome or adapt to challenges that interfere with living the way they want or need to live.
Clear as mud, right? Does it help to say that how I define OT depends on what setting I'm in? No? I didn't think so.
So what do I do?
So far, this week I have:
-evaluated a breast cancer survivor for arm swelling and made recommendations for a compression garment, exercises and treatment to decrease the swelling,
-helped a woman walk from her power chair to her bedroom to practice rolling and getting out of bed,
-exercised with a man who had a head injury years ago and his arm wants to hang at his side because he forgets to use it,
-made sure a man with severe weakness and tremors could walk to his fridge and get the meal his wife prepared,
-worked to improve balance and strength and decrease stiffness in a patient whose multiple falls this year have broken several bones,
-helped a below-knee amputee get in and out of her shower and build her confidence to take said shower without someone holding on or doing it for her,
-made sure a patient could walk to her apartment dumpster and mailbox without getting too tired,
-worked with neck and shoulder pain so the patient could get out of bed,
-evaluated a patient with balance and weakness issues affecting her ability to stand and brush her teeth or fix a sandwich safely.
Pretty important stuff, don't you think? I think so. Yet patients want more Physical Therapy. ("I want to walk!") Well if you can't do anything once you get where you're going...you probably need me, too.
(Side note--PT is very important. I love PTs. They just get most of the glam and glory.)