Is Occupational Therapy The Way To A Meaningful Life?

The United States was known for developing a concept called “The American Dream,” the idea that anyone can be successful if they put in the effort. While there are different speculations about the notion of the American Dream still being a thing, it is what contemporary America was built on.

But maybe — could it be ever so possible — the American Dream is harder, or even much harder, for some to reach? What about those who grew up in poverty that has lasted for generations? Sure, the cycle can be broken, but that is no trivial task. How about those, in correlation with poverty, suffer from a piece of knowledge or — in this day and age — a digital divide? Another population to consider is that of individuals who suffer from disabilities. More is to be said on that momentarily.

Like many things in life, the way an individual lives the entirety of their life is contingent upon their foundation. In this context, a foundation of poverty, financial illiteracy, and a lack of resources are much more likely to lead to failure in the context of the American Dream as opposed to someone who grew up in a middle-class home. Again, that is where interpretations of the American Dream remain subjective.

Now, think about individuals — adults and children — who suffer from disabilities; think especially about them in terms of the American Dream.

Photo by Alex Green on

The scientific community and increasing society have come to terms that disabilities take a wide variety of forms. They are not only physical and visible but also mental and invisible. Naturally, this increased understanding has led to a more voluminous DSM and more contests behind its long-held authority. Thankfully, the increased understanding has come to greatly benefit those who suffer from physical and cognitive disabilities. At the same time, we’ve recognized we were wrong on some “disabilities”; for example, homosexuality was listed as a disability for a long time.

All of this is to say that the American Dream is more difficult to obtain for people with disabilities — physical and mental. Thankfully, in the United States and many other parts of the world, there are resources for those who suffer from disabilities but are still able to be or become productive members of society. One of those resources is occupational therapy.

First thing’s first: a definition that can be agreed upon is in order. According to Merriam-Webster, occupational therapy is defined as “therapy based on engagement in meaningful activities of daily life…especially to enable or encourage participation in such activities despite impairments or limitations in physical or mental functioning.” 

Some examples Merriam-Webster lists about occupational therapy include self-care skills, education or work, and social interactions. recognizes that starting occupational therapy as soon as possible leads to more success with it; really, the same could be said for most if not all treatments. It also recognizes that occupational therapy is more beneficial for children than adults, though the latter can certainly benefit from it. The other challenge is that while occupational therapy is provided for minors at academic institutions, adults who wish to engage in occupational therapy usually have to see a private, for-profit expert. Additionally, insurance may or may not cover occupational therapy for adults.

Occupational therapy, evidently, is not possible without a dedicated, well-trained workforce. While like any career it comes with its challenges, there are many satisfactory rewards that come from this occupation. Schools offering this graduate-level specialty are known as MOT programs or Masters in Occupational Therapy.

This should not be confused with occupational therapy assistants. While both play a crucial role in uplifting those individuals with disabilities, there are different educational and payment requirements and structures. Occupational therapy assistants need to graduate from an associate degree program at a community college; occupational therapists, on the other hand, need to complete a specialized master’s degree program from a graduate school.

Both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants should expect satisfactory pay and strong job growth, though there will be even more job growth for the latter than the former. The U.S. resource known as the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that from 2019 and for a decade afterward, the projected growth rate for new occupational therapy assistant jobs should increase by 32%. Occupational therapists will still see excellent growth but only by 16%.

The key to setting yourself up for success is to take the initiative early on but later is better than never.

This is a collaborative post.



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