While art therapy’s goal is to improve emotional function and well-being, occupational therapists strive to improve performance of functional tasks, particularly fine motor skills. Art can be seen as one of these functional tasks. Occupational therapists help individuals perform a variety of tasks, specifically tasks involving the muscles in the hands. For instance, if an occupational therapist can help a patient improve his or her ability to use scissors effectively, the patient will then be more inclined to actively participate in art therapy.
The American Occupational Therapy Association defines occupational therapy as “helping people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).” A patient is individually analyzed to determine the patient’s goals. Over time, it is the therapist’s job to ensure that these goals are met in a timely manner. Many times, the home is the first place to be evaluated, followed by other places in which the patient performs tasks, like the workplace or school. Therapists use a holistic approach, focusing on changing the environment to help the patient, with the patient having an integral role in deciding these changes.
Occupational therapists perform therapy in a number of settings because of their task of improving functionality. These settings vary depending on the patient’s needs, but can include a wide variety of health settings or hospitals. In cases where patients suffer from emotional problems, occupational therapists focus on teaching coping skills that allow engagement with daily life.
These skills are important in making patients active agents in their own lives. Without the ability to complete these kinds of tasks, emotional disturbances can worsen. It is hard to separate the impact the inability to perform functional tasks has from emotional distress. Occupational therapists work to make these tasks easier for the patient, and therefore reduce stress.
The roles of occupational and art therapists can sometimes overlap, especially when treating children. Occupational therapists sometimes have to address psychological factors that impact functioning, which an art therapist also does. Improving a child’s ability to play, which includes their ability to make art, is one of the many jobs of the occupational therapist. Working on fine motor skills with a child sets him or her up to be able to be involved in art class, and potentially art therapy.
Patients seeing occupational therapists might be doing so as the result of a traumatic injury. When these types of injuries are experienced, the damage is not only physical. Art therapy has been shown to be particularly helpful for patients experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These patients often have problems with flashbacks or bad dreams, something that the art therapist can work through with them. After being involved in an accident, it is important to tend to both the physical and emotional ramifications. For more information about occupational therapy and whether or not seeing one would benefit you, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website at www.aota.org.
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