Occupational Therapy: Providing hope for the helpless

Occupational Therapy


What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy (OT) specialises in treating individuals with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities. It works towards helping people live independently despite their challenges. Reema Samuel, professor of Occupational Therapy at Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore explains, “Occupational therapy is an art and science. The science requires the therapist to optimise an individual’s performance in meaningful occupations, which are activities needed to work, study, participate in society, etc. The art requires the therapist to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual, understand the impact of socio cultural context on the illness experience, and custom tailor interventions for the person.”

History and Evolution

Interestingly, OT originated in Greece in 100 BCE. Greek physician Asclepiades, used therapeutic baths, exercises and music to ease the pain of his patients in both the mind and body. Other Greeks including Celsus continued such treatment. In the 18th century, Phillippe Pinel and Christian Rell began to integrate such practices into the medical system. Pinel, a French physician deeply interested in mental illness, sought to provide specific cures for his psychiatric patients with combinations of encouraging conversation and medicinal methods. By 1917, the present American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) was formed which name the profession officially in 1920. Since then the field has been growing treating patients with a variety of different disorders.

Who needs OT?

OT is recommended for anybody who has a physical or mental disability. “Therapists help children with special needs to improve their motor, cognitive, self-help and communication skills to ensure age appropriate development as much as possible. They help adults who have had injuries or mental/ physical illness to help them be independent at home and workplace,” says Samuel, who holds a Bachelor in OT and Masters in Mental Health.

Skills required for OT

  • Listening with empathy
  • Clear Communication and good Observation
  • Creativity in problem-solving
  • Thinking out of the box

Challenges of OT

According to Teresa Davis who is currently pursuing her Bachelor In Occupational Therapy at CMC, Vellore, “Since every individual’s pace of improvement in different, sometimes even after prolonged therapy sessions and treatment patients may not improve in all the goals intended to be achieved.’ Her professor Samuel adds that the creation of a person’s treatment can be challenging as it requires the therapist to ‘understand in depth each person’s goals, values and roles in life.”

Study programmes

Students opting for occupational therapy in India must have achieved 50 percent or more in their 10+2 exams including subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology. The OT programmes offered across more than 25 institutions in India are recognised by the All India Occupational Therapist’s Association (AIOTA) and the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT). During the course, the programme participants study anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, orthopedics and surgery, medicine, psychiatry, psychology along with the fundamentals of occupational therapy.

Job opportunities

Occupational therapy consists of two main setups; acute for in-patients in critical medical conditions brought by sudden decline in their health and rehabilitative for patients recovering from injuries or illnesses by promoting independence in their lifestyle. OTs generally exercise their skills in three main areas – paediatric, neurological and orthopedic. Therefore, apart from hospitals and private clinics, occupational therapists find jobs in schools, NGOs, rehabilitation centres and offices.


Occupational Therapists earn varied salaries depending on the place of work. On average according to PayScale, an Occupational Therapist earns Rs 500 per hour with Rs 16,632 per month. Therapists new to the field often work as assistants working their way up.

Occupational therapy is a career that is gradually securing a permanent position in the Indian workforce. People are realising the importance of positive recovery not just physically but also mentally so that patients can live without hindrance despite their conditions. For those interested in pursuing a career that will bring hope to helpless, discouraged individuals, occupational therapy will make you and your patients smile.

 Sarah Samuel


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