I am an Occupational therapist working with adults experiencing chronic pain, stress and/or fatigue. I have a special interest in chronic pain syndromes, like Fibromyalgia, and have completed a post-graduate Diploma in Interdisciplinary Pain management. I offer a compassionate, wholistic and practical approach to the daily challenges of these conditions.
Occupational Therapy (OT) is a healthcare profession that falls into the category of “allied healthcare professions” along with physiotherapy and speech therapy. OT is about:
Enabling individuals across the lifespan (from age 0-100!) to participate as independently and satisfactorily as possible in the activities of daily living they want and need to do (self-care, work/study, socializing and leisure) despite whatever temporary or permanent physical, psychological, cognitive and/or other challenges they may have from any defect, disease, disorder or injury.
The name of our profession can be confusing because “occupation-al” implies we only have something to do with work or vocation! Actually, the reference is to all the meaningful activities which occupy the daily lives of human beings and which give us the sense of meaning and purpose we need to thrive.
OT thus uses a client-centred and wholistic approach to improve an individual’s overall functioning.
To qualify as an OT, individuals complete a 4-year full-time (Honours) degree in Occupational Therapy. The degree includes science and humanitarian subjects that help us to assess and treat the whole person: like physics, chemistry, psychology, anatomy, physiology and biochemistry; as well as specific OT subjects. During training, OT students learn to practice within a wide range of medical, surgical and psychiatric fields and get much hands-on practical experience in hospitals, schools and other settings.
Many OT’s then also complete post-graduate studies to gain further knowledge and experience in areas of special interest e.g. hand therapy, neurology, vocational rehabilitation, pain management.
Although the public is most familiar with the role of OT’s in working with children, OT’s work with individuals across the entire lifespan. The 3 main fields of OT practice are paediatrics, adult physical rehabilitation and adult psychiatric rehabilitation. Whilst all OT’s are trained in these 3 fields, they usually choose one of these fields to practice in once qualified. So, you will find some OT’s only working with children or only with adults but sometimes with both!
So many people wonder…do you do counselling for individuals with psychological challenges? “Counselling” can be a confusing word! Almost every healthcare professional “counsels” their patients to some extent. A better word to describe what OT’s do when working with those with psychological challenges might be “coaching” – because coaching focuses on improving performance (or “functioning”) by looking at what can be changed in terms of cognitive, psychological and physical factors as well as learned skills. It is a practical and empowering approach focused on the present.
In comparison, clinical and counselling psychologists use psychotherapy and counselling to help people process the past and relate it to the present. OT’s are considered “mental health professionals” and there is a complimentary relationship between them and psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. OT’s are trained to contribute to diagnosing mental health disorders and work as part of the interdisciplinary team.
A search online will help you find an OT near to you. Choose an OT with interest and experience in the field your challenges relate to: e.g. an OT working with adults with neurological problems; adults with mental health challenges, hand therapy etc. If you live in South Africa, you should ensure that the OT you consult with is currently registered with the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA). It is illegal and unethical to practice without this registration.
Whether Occupational Therapy is covered by your medical aid depends on your particular provider and the policy you have with them. The large medical aids usually cover OT under allied services/rehabilitation. It’s always good to check with your medical aid before committing to therapy. Many OT’s choose to charge “private rates” (i.e. non-medical-aid rates) upfront. This means you will need to pay them first and then claim the fees back from your medical aid yourself. This kind of fee information should be available to you prior to starting OT.