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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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About Us
About Us

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is the health profession aimed at enabling people to live life to its fullest. To occupational therapists, a “full” life means a person can engage in ordinary and extraordinary activities that they want and need to do, no matter what injury, illness, condition, disability, lifestyle or environmental barriers stand in the way. These everyday activities are what we call “occupations,” and they are the building blocks of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Occupational therapists help people to perform, modify or adapt their skills and activities in order to lead healthier, happier and more productive lives.

Equipped with a solid grounding in both the medical and social sciences, occupational therapists work with people of all ages across the entire lifespan, from newborn infants to elders in hospice care. Occupational therapists provide interventions in varied settings, including schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, nursing facilities, community clinics, private practices, corporations, executive health centers and wellness resorts. With the growing number of returning military servicemembers, the autism epidemic and an aging American population, demand for occupational therapists will continue to be strong, now and into the foreseeable future. As a prospective occupational therapist, you will find a focus that fits your passion, from ergonomics, to rehabilitation, to wellness.

As an occupational therapist, you might:

  • Help elders re-engage in activities they love but can’t do now because of physical limitations.
  • Coach corporate executives on creating an optimal balance of work and leisure to reduce stress and maximize health, or advise them on creating office spaces based upon ergonomic principles.
  • Work in private practices treating children with autism and sensory processing disorders to help them experience the joys of successful play, self-care and social occupations.
  • Create community programs and interventions for immigrants, indigenous communities or people with mental illness so that they can enjoy productive and satisfying lives.
  • Teach adults with spinal cord injuries how to use technology to avoid life-threatening pressure ulcers when traveling in the community.
  • Assist teachers in redesigning classroom environments so that children with attention deficit disorders are less easily distracted during learning activities.
  • Develop innovative weight loss programs that comprehensively emphasize the connections between healthy eating, meaningful activities, stress reduction and physical exercise.
  • Provide programs in prisons and for at-risk youth and young adults that address community building and skill acquisition as alternatives to gang membership.
  • Help an adult experiencing a depressive episode re-engage in daily activities by recommending a series of graduated activities that maximize the chance for success.
  • Develop a substitute method for holding a fork to allow a person who has lost grip strength to feed himself or herself independently.

Occupational Therapy as a Career

With demand for health care services anticipated to be strong throughout this decade, occupational therapy is also a secure career choice. In fact, the profession of occupational therapy has recently been named a:

If you are considering a career as an occupational therapist, you can also learn more by visiting the website for the American Occupational Therapy Association.