What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy helps people regain their confidence, abilities and self-reliance after ill health or an injury, or if they have a disability.
If you have had an accident or illness, an occupational therapist (OT) can help with your recovery, and to manage the daily activities that are important to your health and wellbeing. This can be anything from personal care routines and keeping active to working, socialising and enjoying leisure activities.
To do that, the OT will look at your mental and physical health, as well as social and environmental factors, and work with you to plan and achieve the goals that matter the most to you.
OTs work within a wide range of organisations, so you might meet one in the NHS, your local authority’s housing and social care departments (social work services in Scotland), residential care homes or occupational health. Some also work independently for individuals and their families.
How can occupational therapy help?
Through looking at daily routines, equipment, home adaptations, technology and communications, OTs can help you recover from a wide range of medical conditions.
Some of the health conditions that occupational therapists can help with include arthritic conditions, stroke, Parkinson’s and dementia.
The ways that an OT can help depends on what you’re struggling with. Here are a few examples of situations where an OT can help:
- Care homes: OTs can support people living in residential care homes to improve their health and wellbeing. They can work with the individual and staff to ensure that you’re able to participate in daily life in ways that suit you and make the most of your strengths, social contacts and interests.
- Falls prevention: an OT can help you to move around safely and more easily, including if you have previously suffered a fall. Often, they work in teams alongside physiotherapists where they advise on equipment and techniques that can help prevent you from having falls. Read more about falls prevention.
- Home advice: an OT can visit to see whether simple changes in your routines could help you stay independent. They can also assess if you would benefit from specialist equipment or a home adaptation to make your life safer and more secure. OTs can also help if you are in the final stages of life and wish to receive end of life care at home, helping you to live as comfortably and independently as possible.
- Mental health: OTs can help people with mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. They work with people individually or in groups to increase confidence in social situations and with managing daily life. For someone with depression, this can include anything from learning simple interaction techniques in social situations to breaking down daily tasks so that they become more manageable.
- Rehabilitation: if you have suffered from an illness or injury, an OT’s role will be to help you regain the independent living skills you need so you’re ready to be discharged home safely.
How can I get an appointment for occupational therapy?
If you have health problems or a disability that are affecting your wellbeing or safety, you can arrange for an occupational therapy assessment by contacting the local authority’s Adult Social Care department (Social Work Services in Scotland, Social Care Services in Northern Ireland). Click on the button below to reach a gov.uk page where you can find your local authority website.
Your GP, social worker or nurse can also refer you for an appointment.
If you’re in hospital, OTs will often be part of the rehabilitation, recovery or discharge teams and you can ask to be seen by one before you go home. This is a good idea to ensure that you’re safely able to manage the daily activities within your home environment.
It’s also possible to contact a private OT through the Royal College of Occupational Therapists’ website. Private occupational therapists will visit you at home, but you will have to pay them yourself.
If you’re in hospital, OTs will often be part of the rehabilitation, recovery or discharge teams and you can ask to be seen by one before you go home.
How can an OT help me as a carer?
If you care for your family member or friend in their home, an OT can work with you to identify ways in which you can make sure both you and your loved one are as safe and comfortable as possible. For example, they can demonstrate techniques or equipment you can use for moving the person you’re caring for in and out of chairs and into bed, or using the bath or toilet safely.
If you’re looking after someone, you’re also entitled to an assessment of your needs as a carer, which is usually carried out by a social worker or care manager. An OT can also be involved in this assessment to advise on the practical aspects of care.
How much does occupational therapy cost?
Social services or NHS
You don’t have to pay for occupational therapy sessions that are arranged by social services or the NHS.
If the OT thinks that you need equipment, a range of basic items of equipment will usually be provided by the council, but if you want something other than the essential ones, you may have to pay for it yourself.
If your home needs to be adapted to your needs, you can apply for the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). The amount of money you can get and the processes for applying vary across the UK.
You’ll have to pay for consultations with a private OT, and you should ask about the fees before engaging them. To find out if you could be eligible for occupational therapy through social services, you will have to have a needs assessment.
A home visit for an private assessment usually takes between one and two hours, and fees can vary between £300 and £500, depending on location and the specialism of the therapist. The fee should include a full report that sets out details of what was discussed during the assessment, including advice and recommendations.
You’re most likely to get the written report after the visit, particularly where further research is needed to identify solutions or modifications to your home.
If follow-up sessions are required, hourly rates can range from £40 to £70.
Bear in mind that consultations are geared towards recovery and independence rather than extended periods of treatment, and if any equipment is recommended, you’ll need to purchase this yourself.
It may be good to have a list of questions ready to ask an independent OT so you know what’s included before booking the first appointment:
- Is the fee inclusive of a full assessment report?
- Are travel time and expenses included in the fee?
- What are the arrangements for follow-up advice or appointments?
How are occupational therapists regulated?
The Royal College of Occupational Therapists is the professional body that sets standards and codes of practice for the profession. Find more information about what OTs do on their website.
All OTs should be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and are required to work to their professional codes of ethics and practice. You can check the credentials of occupational therapists on its website.
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