The importance of an occupational therapist may not come to light until you need one after being diagnosed with a debilitating condition such as a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury or Parkinson’s disease. Occupational therapists play a critical role in helping patients return to their everyday routines. In many cases, activities such as brushing teeth, dining, golfing, gardening, getting dressed, bathing and even various social interactions must be relearned with the help of an occupational therapist.
You may be surprised to learn that there are several misconceptions about occupational therapy. Paul Matlack, MS, OT, director of therapy operations at Encompass Health’s MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital, shares some of these common misunderstandings.
- Occupational therapy will help me find a job
Occupational therapists help give you the tools needed to live your life independently and to the fullest, both physically and mentally – all skills that will be helpful in the job seeking process.
- Occupational therapists only work on my hands and/or arms
Occupational therapists work with patients who have various mental, social and emotional challenges, and support patients with cognitive issues, such as memory loss.
- Occupational therapy is a “bath aide”
While it’s true that occupational therapists do help patients with self-care tasks such as bathing, they also assist with day-to-day activities including dressing, eating, preparing meals and other various activities both inside and outside of the house.
- Occupational therapy isn’t nearly as important as physical therapy
While physical and occupational therapy are critical to a patient’s progress and both help patients regain independence, they play different roles. Physical therapists help restore function of the extremities to help patients achieve full mobility, while occupational therapists focus on helping patients perform activities of daily living teaching adaptation techniques when necessary.
- Children do not need occupational therapy
Occupational therapy is not bound by age and can be beneficial for anyone, from a newborn with developmental delays to a senior who seeks to enhance their safety.
Paul Matlack, MS, OT has been director of therapy operations at Encompass Health’s MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital for more than 14 years, and has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Kansas State University and went on to receive a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Rockhurst University.