Occupational Therapy Goals: Short-Term, Long-Term Examples

Living a healthy, fulfilling is the desire of many people living with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities or injuries. This can mean different things to different people — from improved quality of life to returning completely to all previous activities. Occupational therapy goes a long way toward achieving this goal. Below, we provide examples of various occupational therapy goals, including short-term and long-term goals for both adult and pediatric therapy. We also explain the components of goal setting, goal flexibility, and how a therapist can help you establish and achieve your goals.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that works to help people with different types of disabilities live as “normal” a life as possible. Professionally trained occupational therapists teach people not only to cope with a disability, but also to learn how to live with it. Occupational therapists work with patients on all aspects of their lives, including self-care, work, and play. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) emphasizes how occupational therapy strives to create patient independence, prevent further injury, and increase development.[1]

Why Create Occupational Therapy Goals?

Without goals, it’s difficult to have a clear understanding of your desires, wants, or needs. By setting clear goals, occupational therapists and patients can create a plan for achieving them. This established accountability in the form of measurable criteria and a time frame. The ultimate goal of an occupational therapist is to help a person live as full and normal a life as possible, regardless of the type of disability.[2]

What Are the Components of an Occupational Therapy Plan?

Writing occupational therapy plans means creating a tangible list of goals and a way to measure success in recovery. Every occupational therapy plan is different because each patient’s situation is unique, and each person has different things they want to achieve. But, while this plan is different for each person, the basic component questions needed to establish the plan remain the same.

  • Who will do the work? The patient, physical and mental therapists, doctors, and caregivers are the people who will do the work.
  • What must be done? The patient and their disability determine the occupational therapy plan. Each person needs to do different activities. Examples include teaching self-care, learning new ways to perform at work, physical goals such as lifting or walking, integrating into “normal” society, learning to speak again, or managing pain.
  • How will it be done? Performance is planned based on what is required. Those who experienced a traumatic event will receive mental and emotional therapy for helping them learn to deal with what happened. Physical disabilities require people to learn how to live with the disability and find new ways to complete tasks. Most activities involve a combination of treatments, including cognitive, emotional, and physical therapy to help keep the body and brain healthy throughout treatment and going forward.
  • Where will it be done? Occupational therapy takes place in doctors’ offices, gyms, the patient’s home, work, and community. It can take place in any situation in which the person might live, work, or play
  • How long will it take? Therapy takes place until the ultimate goal set at the beginning of the plan is achieved.
  • What is the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is that a person will have achieved living as “normal” of a life as possible. While some disabilities and injuries can permanently prevent patients from returning to certain activities, occupational therapy should help them regain as much of their desired life as possible, even if this means finding alternatives for some activities.

Are Goals Flexible?

Occupational therapy goals must be flexible. A patient might not heal as quickly or learn a new task in the time frame allotted by the original plan. Alternatively, a patient may progress faster than expected. Or, they may simply have changes in their wants or needs. Because of these possibilities, the goals are flexible to allow for change. Flexible goals allow the patient to continue moving forward with reachable, measurable results, without becoming discouraged.

How Do Occupational Therapists Help Create Goals?

The majority of people, including those with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, prefer to live independently. However, everyone’s occupational therapy goals are different. Setting short- and long- term goals depends on the type of disability. These goals also take into account how the patient lives, works, and plays. Someone with a cognitive disability may not have the same goals as someone with a physical or emotional one. Occupational therapists work with the individual and his or her caregivers to help determine what the person’s goals should accomplish to see improved quality of life in work, play, or self-care.

Occupational therapists use a range of methods to help a patient create achievable goals.[3] The therapist talks and listens to the patient and their caregivers. They do physical, sensory, cognitive, and perceptual evaluations of the person. Occupational therapists also perform functional, psychosocial, vocational, home, and play life evaluations to help determine what treatments and equipment are necessary for the patient to reach their goals of living a “normal” or fulfilling life. Once the therapist has determined how the disability affects the person’s life, they work closely with the people involved in the caregiving process to form a plan for treatment.

Short-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

Short-term goals are long-term goals broken down into “bite-size” chunks. Creating easily reachable goals helps the patient enjoy success along the path of working towards the ultimate goal(s). Short-term goals are achieved in a few days, weeks, or even months. Working toward and succeeding at short-term goals helps the patient learn independence. Examples of short-term goals include:

  • Walking across a room in one week
  • Taking a shower by one’s self in a month
  • Learning to speak five words a day
  • Spending an hour in a crowded place
  • Feeding one’s self in weeks or a few months
  • Being able to lift weighted objects again, from something as simple as a cup to heavier items, such as a gallon of milk, in a few weeks
  • Learning to cook in a month
  • Typing on a keyboard in a few weeks or a month
  • Picking up something from the floor
  • Climbing a ladder
  • Walking without crutches
  • Increasing range of motion in an injured limb in a month
  • Caring for pets or a service animal in a few weeks or months
  • Making the bed or performing household chores
  • Using a computer mouse
  • Going grocery shopping
  • Using a gripper, clamp, or stick to get things down or pick things up

Long-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

Achieving long-term goals means the patient has finally reached their desired level of “normalcy.” In occupational therapy, the ultimate goal is living life as fully and independently as possible with the disability. All the work put into each short-term goal compounds until the person can no longer move forward. It is possible that continued improvement will happen, but the patient can achieve better performance without the aid of a professional therapist. Generally, long-term goals take a year or longer to achieve. Examples of long-term goals include:

  • Going back to work
  • Walking unaided
  • Reintegrating back into society
  • Learning to pilot a wheelchair or use a cane
  • Gaining full use of a prosthetic limb
  • Learning to read and write
  • Participating in sports
  • Driving a car
  • Living alone
  • Performing lawn care
  • Conquering fear of injury
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Gaining back muscle use from long-term disability
  • Gaining an overall sense of well being
  • Completing physical, mental, or emotional therapy
  • Advancing to no more doctor visits
  • Becoming independent with a service animal
  • Gaining control over fear of being in crowded rooms or of being attacked
  • Controlling violent tendencies
  • Speaking normally
  • Traveling or leaving one’s home

Once a patient achieves success in meeting their long-term goals, they may return to their career or begin a new one entirely. As a resource to help along this journey, we also list several examples of long-term career goals.

Short-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

Short-term pediatric occupational therapy goals often include helping children achieve simple functions in life, such as learning to dress one’s self or learning how to read and write. Children have not, yet, had the time to learn many basic functions and abilities, so they have to be taught from the start. Common short-term goals can include:

  • Learning the alphabet
  • Sitting next to people in class or a multiple-person location
  • Learning to dress
  • Wash one’s self or brush one’s teeth
  • Feed one’s self
  • Playing with toys
  • Cutting shapes out of paper
  • Putting a puzzle together or other coordination tasks like building with LEGOs
  • Picking up small items
  • Learning to write and form words or complete sentences
  • Understanding what his or her name, address, and telephone number are
  • Drawing basic shapes
  • Standing in a school lunch line and picking out food
  • Learning the differences between right and wrong

Long-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

Long-term pediatric occupational therapy goals can overlap with similar adult goals, but they often differ in the fact that children are still learning how to do things in life (not re-learning them). While adults occasionally need to be completely retrained in all functions the same as a child, this is a more rare occasion. Goals vary based on the disability or the age of the child. Common long-term goals include:

  • Learning how to function without pitching a tantrum
  • Learning how to read
  • Sharing toys
  • Speaking without stuttering
  • Gaining competence in physical, mental, and motor skills
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Developing hand/eye coordination
  • Growing into a functioning teenager or adult
  • Playing sports

In Summary

Occupational therapy is a major benefit to those living with disabilities, both adults and children. Setting short- and long-term goals helps the patient move forward and see progress, such as improved range of motion or the loss of a stutter. Functioning independently is important to the majority of people, and setting these goals can help the patient achieve that overall goal of a healthy, fulfilling life.

3 comments

  • Sabri Patel says:

    Hey, in our MSOT program we were taught, COAST:
    Client – who is getting the treatment
    Occupation – what is the meaningful and purposeful task
    Assistance level – Minimal, Moderate, Independently?
    Special Condition – is it in a specific place? with a specific tool?
    Time – how long will it take to get to the goal

  • Jessica Parker says:

    We’re being taught in my MSOT program that goals need to be SMART:
    Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
    Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
    Assignable – specify who will do it.
    Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
    Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved

    There is a different format for pediatric goals, but “be happy for one day” is not measurable. If I handed in any of these goals in an assignment I would fail.

    • Hillary Miller says:
      First Quarter Finance logostaff

      Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for taking the time to write in! There’s definitely way more to occupational therapy than we could cover in this post. You’re right that “be happy for one day” isn’t a specific or measurable goal. I’ve edited the post to reflect your input.