The history of occupational therapy dates back to Greek philosophical times. Professionals of this client-centered practice put an emphasis on helping and enabling clients to engage in their daily routines and activities. Occupational therapists don’t just focus on a specific problem, instead, they opt for a holistic approach. This approach focuses on acclimating patients to their environments, implementing and adjusting rehabilitative methods, and encouraging patients to improve certain aspects of their daily lives.
For example, if a man injures his arm, a physical therapist will treat him with acupuncture or manual therapy. In contrast, an occupational therapist will help him adapt to the conditions to achieve improved quality life in addition to the administration of regular physiotherapy practices.
Just like in any profession, there are pros and cons to being an occupational therapist. Before planning to become an occupational therapist, or prior to going to occupational therapy school, you should be aware of the skills necessary for success in this profession.
1. Communication Skills
While working with patients, occupational therapists need to listen and explain the situations and tasks. If they are working with a patient that is a child, they must be capable of converting complex terms into simpler ones so that the child can understand it, and the same is true when speaking with patients of all ages. You need to be able to approach communication in a variety of ways to a variety of different patients with an array of injuries.
Besides this, occupational therapists also need to communicate with other team members, doctors, and clinics. OTs often must delegate tasks to occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) and work as clinical supervisors to subordinate staff. So, it is necessary for them to be clear, efficient, and confident while listening and speaking at the time of such discussions. This also requires an awareness of occupational therapy jargon and standard occupational terms for effective communication.
2. Personal Skills
Occupational therapists work with patients of all age groups undergoing many types of physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. It is also important to note that the nature, composure, and personal skills of patients will vary dramatically. Some patients may be calm, kind, and collected, while others may be rude, frustrated, or impatient. As a result, it is important to be able to respond viably to all types of patients with all sorts of injuries.
It is important to consider that although they aren’t just taking shots in the dark, there is no template for occupational therapy. To be successful within this role, you must make individualized strategies on how to solve distinct issues effectively, without any major failure or risks. Occupational therapy is comparable to an equation, and the answer is a direct result of intentional problem-solving efforts.
4. Physical Strength
Occupational therapists have to serve clients throughout the day, travel from one area to another, and stand by the side of the patients irrespective of time and duration. The physiotherapy techniques used in occupational therapy can be difficult, and patients may need to use occupational therapists as a literal crutch in order to be able to perform the technique. If you choose to become an occupational therapist, you will need to be physically strong, and work to maintain that strength.
An occupational therapist should be nurturing; i is one of the most important qualities they must possess. Occupational therapists should be ready to switch on a dime from nurturing one client to another. Throughout the entire scope of practice, an occupational therapist has to be a versatile, diligent, intentional nurturer with all of their patients.
It is crucial for occupational therapists to be well-organized individuals. There are patients relying on you to have your documentation (initial forms, insurance, etc.) and schedule in check. You need to make sure you have enough clients booked, but not too many.
If you own your own practice, you need to be organized in all facets to ensure that those working under you also remain organized. If you work in a clinical setting, or if you share space with other occupational therapists, you will need to make sure that you are extra careful in organizing your schedules to meet the needs of your patients while also ensuring a good workflow. Being disorganized will only make the job more difficult.
Sometimes, occupational therapists might have to face rude, impatient, frustrated, depressed, or stubborn patients, and they need to treat such patients with a smile, and the same amount of effort as any other patient. Some clients may achieve success in their condition within a few months or weeks while some may take years. Be patient with all types of patients and their route to recovery.
8. Compassion and Empathy
Occupational therapy would be difficult for someone who lacks compassion or empathy. It is common for patients to be struggling physically as well as mentally/emotionally.
Said patients need a genuinely warm-hearted and sympathetic occupational therapist who understands them and treats them accordingly. This attempt should avoid judgment or negative remarks, and it should make the patient feel welcomed and accepted.
While training provides you with the gist of the job, creativity is largely something you develop through patient care. While two patients may both struggle with back pain, after assessing their situations, you may have different treatment routes. It takes an innovative, creative mind to effectively tailor to each patient’s individual needs effectively.
10. Writing and Documenting
Akin to communication skills, writing qualities are also quite important to become a highly efficient occupational therapist. You need to be able to use correct language and grammar to document detailed files and records of all your patients. By harnessing good writing and documenting skills, you can properly assist your patients, their families, your team, and any additional or future health providers.
Motivation is very important for potentially depressed, frustrated, and troubled individuals. An enthusiastic OT with great “cheerleading” skills can make patients do things that seem impossible at first glance. It can be challenging to stay positive and motivated, but turning to the wider community of OTs can provide plenty of inspirational quotes and sentiments that remind you of the importance and value of your role.
Besides being a good listener, a successful occupational therapist must also be a good observer in order to analyze a patient and recommend care. This should include both what is said explicitly and what is left unsaid. For example, a patient may say that they feel comfortable or in tip-top shape, but they may wince when doing certain things that indicate otherwise. An occupational therapist must observe and evaluate procedures that are suitable for their clients.
Clients cancel and postpone appointments, and your day-to-day routine can change drastically when you work as an occupational therapist. Additionally, one day you may work with all children, and the next day you may not see or treat a single person under 50. You never know what kind of client you are going to deal with since troubles that require occupational therapy can happen to anyone. Be prepared for uncertainty, and remain flexible.
While it is encouraged, you do not need to possess all of the following traits in order to become a successful occupational therapist, but it can certainly help.