Occupational therapy helps children and adults learn and relearn skills after a health event, like a stroke. It also helps people adjust their environments, like their homes, so they can function more easily with their condition.

Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of rehabilitation that your doctor may recommend after you’ve experienced an injury, surgery, or other change in health status. OT often involves learning skills that will help you resume your day-to-day activities at home and at work.

The goal of OT is to help you live and function as independently as possible. This can mean:

  • helping an older adult adapt to mobility challenges
  • helping someone get back to work after an injury
  • helping a child meet developmental milestones

Keep reading to learn what to expect during OT, how it differs from physical therapy (PT), its cost, and its effectiveness.

OT helps you regain everyday life, work, and home skills that have become difficult after an injury, illness, or change in your health.

For example, after a health event like a stroke or surgery, PT helps you regain strength and mobility. OT helps you regain skills like writing and cooking.

It also helps you adapt. Occupational therapists can perform an evaluation of your home, workplace, or school. This helps them make recommendations for adaptive equipment and other tools that can help you navigate life.

What are “occupations”?

Occupations are activities that people of all ages want to do to support their daily life. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, this includes things like:

  • working or going to school
  • driving
  • dressing and self-care
  • making and eating meals
  • managing medications
  • thinking
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Occupational therapists also play an important role in helping caregivers. If you are caring for a loved one at home, an occupational therapist can teach you how to use equipment, administer medication, or provide support.

The overall goals of OT are to:

  • help you safely and effectively perform various day-to-day tasks
  • help you regain or maintain your independence
  • make sure caregivers know how to best support their loved ones

A doctor might recommend OT for a variety of medical conditions that affect your ability to perform daily tasks. Whenever movement has been affected by long-term injury, disease, or cognitive change, or a prosthesis has been fitted for an amputation, OT can help.

People who might benefit from OT include anyone affected by:

OT can be a little bit different for everybody. Your therapist will look at your medical history, your environment, and your needs in order to develop a plan that works for you. This includes offering guidance and training to caregivers and other loved ones.


OT helps adults learn or relearn a number of different skills. Your occupational therapist may help with:

  • life skills like dressing, preparing food, eating, and self-care
  • movement
  • concentration and memory
  • gross and fine motor skills
  • daily routines
  • adaptations to a home or workplace
  • medical devices like walkers or prostheses
  • job skills
  • driving
  • social skills


For children and youth, occupations are activities that help them learn, have fun, develop life skills, and thrive.

During OT, therapists look for traditional developmental milestones and what prevents the child from meeting them.

Starting with an in-depth evaluation, they create a plan to work with parents, caregivers, and other professionals on modifying and adapting the child’s activities and environment. At the same time, they work with the child to learn adaptation and modification skills that allow successful play, learning, relationships, and life skills.

In children, OT covers a wide range of needs, including:

  • developmental disabilities
  • physical injuries or illness
  • emotional-behavioral conditions

PT focuses on the functional movement of the body. It helps you regain strength and mobility following an injury, illness, or other health event. PT includes elements like:

OT, on the other hand, focuses on skills. It also focuses on memory, comprehension, and life skills.

OT may set up a plan for situations like:

  • helping an injured employee return to a job
  • helping a child with a disability participate in school
  • assisting an older adult with memory loss after a stroke

Few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of OT.

A 2017 study followed 166 people treated for work-related musculoskeletal disorders at clinics in the midwestern United States.

Therapy included flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, strengthening, core stability, exercise, and general work simulation. In addition, some people received counseling with a psychologist, education on stress management, and comprehensive body mechanics training.

The study found that the greatest predictor of success was how long each session lasted and the number of sessions a person had per week.

How to find an occupational therapist

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How long does occupational therapy last?

In partnership with your occupational therapist, you will set up specific goals, both physical and time-related. Generally, you should expect treatment to last anywhere from a few sessions to several months.

How expensive is occupational therapy?

If you do not have health insurance, the initial OT evaluation will cost, on average, between $150 and $200. Additional treatment sessions cost between $40 and $200.

Injury or illness can change the way you’re able to perform tasks at home, work, or school. OT helps you learn to adapt physically and mentally so you can function more easily.

OT is different from PT. PT focuses on restoring muscular strength and movement. OT focuses on fine motor movements, mental ability, social functioning, and life skills.