SHERIDAN — April is National Occupational Therapy Month and a number of local professionals celebrate and practice the occupation through their career paths daily. Many people know and understand what physical therapy is, but not as many know about its counterpart, occupational therapy.
The American Occupational Therapy Association defines occupational therapy as “the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities.” The AOTA further explains that “occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent — or live better with — injury, illness, or disability.”
Michael Garneau, an occupational therapist at Wyoming Rehab, elaborated on what occupational therapists do.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the only profession that helps, but that is the purpose of occupational therapy,” Garneau said. “A lot of people are confused about what an occupation is. An occupation is all the activities of daily living. Taking a shower is an occupation. Driving is an occupation. Golfing is an occupation. Rehabilitation is implemented based on how the dysfunction affects someone’s occupations.”
This is where occupational therapy differs the most from physical therapy. Generally speaking, occupational therapy tends to be more holistic of the body and individual, while physical therapy focuses almost solely on the injury or ailment of the patient. Physical therapy intends to return the injured part of the body to sufficient functionality based on how other people’s bodies function.
Occupational therapy looks at how the injury or ailment affects the patient’s occupations, from active daily living, working and leisure. Occupational therapy intends to return the individual to their occupation.
Although the exercises performed by patients of both physical and occupational therapy may appear the similar, the purposes are different.
“A lot of times, it’s not just about rehabilitating the abilities or strength of the individual but also lowering the level of effort an occupation requires,” Garneau said. “That means giving people new skill sets and tools, not just treatments.”
Occupational therapy is about the independence of the patient, which is beneficial to the individual and the community.
“People really have no idea what occupational therapy can do, what it can help people do and how it can help the community,” said Ginny Rieger, an occupational therapist at Teton Therapy. “Healthy people are a healthy community.”
Rieger has been working in occupational therapy for 19 years and attests to her love for helping people. Seemingly, occupational therapy is an aspect of medical care many people don’t consider.
“It’s one of the best kept secrets in the medical field, which is why National Occupational Therapy Month is so important,” Rieger said. “If something is wrong in your car, you’d see a mechanic, right? So if there’s a hitch in your giddy-up, why would you not treat it?”
Occupational therapy exists across the spectrum of the body, from orthopedic to cognitive function problems, and often occupational therapists become more specialized to their fields. Other places that offer occupational therapy in Sheridan include Sheridan Physical Therapy, Sensational Kids, Home Health, and the Sheridan Memorial Hospital.
By Marissa Brenneman