Occupational Therapy Month Q & A

Apr 19, 2021


April is Occupational Therapy Month. To help celebrate the key contributions of occupational therapists, we’ve asked Adventist Health Portland hand therapist Elisabeth Freeman, OTD, to answer some questions about how these important rehab specialists help people get back to the activities they value most.

Q. What is occupational therapy?

A. Occupational therapy (OT) recently celebrated its 100th year as a profession. OT began after World War I as a holistic means to support the physical, mental and occupational needs of returning veterans. Now occupational therapists work with all kinds of people, from premature babies in the NICU and children in schools to adults on hospice care.

OTs focus on activities of daily living or, more broadly, the client’s occupations, which include everything the person needs, wants or is expected to do. OTs view clients holistically and assess and treat physical, mental and sensory impairments as needed.

Examples include helping a child’s coordination so they can learn to tie shoes or brush their teeth, helping a person with low vision be successful and independent in their own home, and providing strategies for a worker to protect their joints on the job.

Q. How is occupational therapy different than physical therapy?

A. Physical therapists support individuals in restoring and improving their strength, balance and coordination for safe and independent mobility. For example, a client who has experienced a stroke may work with a physical therapist to learn how to safely navigate their environment again using a walker or cane.

The occupational therapist may work with the same patient. The OT’s focus is on helping the patient instead focusing on the patient activities such as dressing, preparing a meal or bathing with a partially paralyzed arm. The OT can help the patient adapt to their condition so they can go about their daily activities.

Simply put, physical therapists help patients get from point A to point B. Occupational therapists support the patient and help them adapt to whatever point B looks like.

Q. Who is occupational therapy for?

A: The Adventist Health Portland OT team works with adolescents and adults in inpatient, outpatient and home health. Our therapists specialize in helping patients who:

  • Want to recover function after a neurological illness or injury, like stroke or traumatic brain injury.
  • Need support to adapt their activities due to acute or chronic conditions.
  • Want to be able to return to recreational or leisure interests to improve their quality of life.

We also complete driving evaluations to ensure an individual is safe to return to the road. Older adults and newly disabled individuals may benefit from an OT assessing the safety of their home environment. We can offer them education and training in how to adapt their home for greater safety and independence.

Employees and employers benefit from OTs helping injured workers get back on the job. We also help employees with repetitive use conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow.

Q. How do I get occupational therapy?

A: If you or a loved one could benefit from occupational therapy to help you live your life to the fullest, ask your provider for a referral. If you need help or have questions, you can call Adventist Health Portland rehab services at 503-261-6962.

Elisabeth Freeman OTD 

Learn more about Elisabeth Freeman, OTD

Empowering patients is Elisabeth Freeman’s passion as an occupational therapist.

Freeman earned her doctorate degree in occupational therapy from Pacific University in Hillsboro, Oregon, following her bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Freeman specializes in hand and arm therapy rehabilitation. She believes in educating patients about their condition or injury to help them understand their bodies, so they can better participate in the rehabilitation process.

Freeman loves to travel and has been to 16 countries. She is learning to speak French through community college classes. She also enjoys cooking, hiking, yoga and running.