What Does an Occupational Therapist do?

An occupational therapist gets a patient moving. Photo: Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Occupational therapists have one primary goal -- to help their patients create and maintain independent, productive and satisfying lives. They do this by working with patients to improve their ability to perform tasks in living and working environments, and by designing treatment plans that help patients regain, maintain or develop living and working skills.

Lupus is a complex disease that can affect many parts of the body, and can, in some instances, impact a person’s mobility and quality of life.

An occupational therapist will help lupus patients assess how pain and fatigue levels will affect their ability to conduct normal, everyday activities. They will then help design effective self-management programs to help them realistically get back to the business of living.

Occupational therapists will use tools such as physical exercise regimes to increase strength and dexterity, and mental exercises, like making lists to aid recall, for patients with short-term memory loss. They’ll focus on special instruction for patients with permanent disabilities to help them achieve independent living, including designing special equipment needed at home or work, and then teaching patients how to use the equipment to increase their quality of life.

Occupational therapists must be licensed, requiring a master’s degree in occupational therapy (the minimum requirement for entry into the field), six months of supervised fieldwork, and passing scores on national and state examinations.

Every state regulates the practice of occupational therapy.


Occupational Therapists Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. January 2009.

Lupus: A Patient Care Guide for Nurses and Other Health Professionals, Chapter 6: Psychosocial Aspects of Lupus National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

January 2009.