Occupational Therapy

Find out about occupational therapy (OT) in mental health and how relaxation is an important part of OT. This page also discusses how occupational therapists define a person.

The slogan from the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists for OT, “Skills for the Job of Living,” is an effective description, because occupational therapy helps people to do the things that they need or want to do – their “jobs of living.”

Misunderstandings about the profession often arise because of the term “occupation.” In OT, occupation is anything you do to occupy your time.

For a lighthearted look at the reasons to choose (and NOT to choose) a career in OT, and some case examples of the sort of work occupational therapists do, check out this video:

What is OT?

Because the profession is so diverse, it can be difficult to define. Basically, OT is a rehabilitation profession that focuses on helping clients do the things that are important to them.

This can be very different depending on the area of specialty. Some of the areas where OTs work, and the various populations they work with, include:
– acute care
– long term care
– home care
– outpatients
– community rehabilitation
– physical rehabilitation
– mental health
– pediatrics (children and/or adolescents)
– geriatrics (older adults)

Add to this list such specialty areas as neurology, splinting, rheumatology, psychiatry…the job duties of one occupational therapist can be completely different from the role of another occupational therapist who works in a different area.

How Occupational Therapists Define a Person

Occupational therapists consider the whole person when treating a client, and also look at the individual’s occupations (roles, habits, activities, tasks, etc), and the environment in which he or she does those occupations.


Occupations fall into three basic categories: self-care, productivity, and leisure.

Self-Care: Taking care of oneself. This can include bathing, getting dressed, grooming, eating, relaxation, sleep, and a variety of other activities of daily living.

Productivity: This may include work, volunteering, paid jobs, housekeeping, preparing meals, play (for children), and any other productive tasks a person needs or wants to do.

Leisure: Recreational pursuits such as socialization, games, sports, hobbies, and anything else a person does for relaxation or enjoyment can be included this category.

The Person

Occupational therapists consider the following aspects of the person: Physical, Affective, Cognitive, and Spiritual.

Physical: The physical body of the person; strength, endurance, coordination, muscle tone, fatigue, pain, flexibility, etc.

Affective: Emotional (mood, feelings, etc).

Cognitive: Thinking (problem-solving, decision-making, concentration, attention span, judgment, reasoning, insight, etc).

Spirituality: The core of the individual. What provides meaning for that person. Spirituality is unique to each individual.


Occupational therapists look at the social, physical, institutional, and cultural environments in which a person performs occupations.

Social: The people, relationships, society, and other social settings a person is exposed to.

Physical: The home and community a person lives in or visits, physical barriers, and all other aspects of a person’s physical surroundings.

Institutional: Schools, hospitals, government and other institutions a person functions within.

Cultural: The attitudes, culture, beliefs, and values of the societies a person operates in. This can include broad cultural groups (such as countries or geographical regions) or smaller cultural groups (clubs, communities, teams, etc).

How Can Occupational Therapy Help?

OT helps clients to do whatever it is that is meaningful to the individual. There is no pre-determined treatment that must be followed – the treatment is tailored to the individual client.

Assessment by an occupational therapist may examine physical skills, coping skills, roles and habits, interests, quality of life, sensory processing, mood, or a variety of other aspects of human functioning.

The occupational therapist and the client collaborate to form a treatment plan, and set goals together that are meaningful for the client.

An occupational therapist serves as a guide to help clients do the things that are important to them. Treatment may consist of improving skills, adapting the environment, adapting the occupations, or (most often) a combination of these.

In short, if there is a part of your life that is not satisfying to you, an occupational therapist can help you get to the point where you are able do the things that are important to you.

Occupational Therapy and Relaxation

Relaxation is an important part of maintaining and improving health. Occupational therapists often help clients learn and practice relaxation techniques to enhance physical and mental well-being.

Occupational therapists often teach relaxation techniques as a component of stress management training with patients who have experienced heart attacks, stress, depression, or anxiety. Relaxation techniques are also important for people experiencing illness, injury, or any other kind of stresses.

More Information About Occupational Therapy

To find out more about OT, check out the following resources:

Society of Alberta Occupational Therapists

Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

American Occupational Therapy Association

OT Works: Canada’s Occupational Therapy Resource Site

More information about Inner Health Studio

Inner Health Studio Mission and Vision

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