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

Living life “normally” is the desire of many people living with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. Improved quality of life is also important. So, how does a person with a disability learn to live a “normal” life that includes his or her disabilities? Occupational therapy goes a long way towards achieving this goal. We’ve provided examples of various occupational therapy goals, including short-term and long-term for both adult and pediatric therapy, as well as explaining the components and their flexibility and how a therapist can help you create these goals. Continue on to find out more.

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 to learn to live with it. Occupational therapists instruct patients on all aspects of a patient’s life, including self-care, work, and play. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) focuses on how occupational therapy strives to create patient independence, prevent further injury, and increase development.

Why Create Occupational Therapy Goals?

Without goals, there is no clear understanding of your desires, wants, and needs. By creating clear goals, occupational therapists and patients can create a plan for achieving those goals. Occupational therapists work to help you create goals for self-care, work, and play. They will also devise a plan for meeting those goals. This creates a measurable criteria and 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.

What Are the Components of an Occupational Therapy Plan?

Writing occupational therapy plans creates a reachable list of goals for determining if a patient is being successful and achieving his or her goals. Every occupational therapy plan is different because it is based on what a patient wants to achieve. Also, because each patient’s disability and situation is unique, the plan is different. But, while this plan is different for each person, the basic component questions and answers of 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 type of disability and the patient determines the occupational therapy plan. It includes any activity required to achieve the goals of the plan. Examples include teaching self-care, learning new ways to perform at work, physical goals such as lifting or walking, integration in a “normal” society of people, learning to speak again or pain management.
  • 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. Most activities involve a combination of treatments, including cognitive, emotional, and physical therapy to help keep the body and brain healthy throughout treatment.
  • Where will it be done? Occupational therapy takes place in doctors’ offices, gyms, and at the person’s home, work, and community. It takes place in any situation the person might live, work, or play in.
  • 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 a “normal” life as possible.

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 plan. Or the person changes his or her wants, needs or desires. As a result, the goals are flexible to allow for change. Flexible goals allow the patient to continue moving forward with reachable, measurable results, without feeling like he or she failed.

How Do Occupational Therapists Help Create Goals?

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. The therapist talks and listens to the patient, along with his or her 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 his or her goals of living a “normal” life. Once the therapist has determined how the disability affects the person’s life, they work closely with the people involved in the care giving 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. Short-term goals are achieved in a few days, weeks, or months. Working towards and succeeding at short-term goals helps the patient learn independence. Examples of short term goals:

  • Walk across a room in one week.
  • Take a shower by one’s self in a month.
  • Learn to speak five words a day.
  • Spend an hour in a crowded place.
  • Feed one’s self in weeks or a few months.
  • Be 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.
  • Able to cook in a month.
  • Type on a keyboard in a few weeks or a month.
  • Pick up something from the floor.
  • Climbing a ladder.
  • Walking without crutches.
  • Gain range of motion in an injured limb in a month.
  • Care for pets or a service animal in a few weeks or months.
  • Make the bed or perform household chores.
  • Use a computer mouse.
  • Go grocery shopping.
  • Use 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 his or her ultimate goal. 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 anymore. 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:

  • Going back to work.
  • Walking unaided.
  • Complete reintegration back into society.
  • Able to live a “normal” healthy life.
  • Learn to pilot a wheelchair or use a cane.
  • Gain full use of a prosthetic limb.
  • Learn to read and write.
  • Able to participate in sports.
  • Drive a car.
  • Live alone.
  • Performing lawn care.
  • Conquer fear of injury.
  • Riding a bicycle.
  • Gaining back muscle use from long-term disability.
  • A general, overall sense of well being.
  • Complete physical, mental, or emotional therapy.
  • Advances to no more doctor visits.
  • Becomes independent with a service animal.
  • Gains control over fear of being in crowded rooms or of being attacked.
  • Functions “normally.”
  • Controls violent tendencies.
  • Speaks normally.
  • Able to travel or leave one’s home.

The majority of people, including those with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities prefer to live independently. Occupational therapists work with patients to determine their goals for satisfying those needs, wants, and desires in life. The therapist then develops a plan, including short and long term goals, for helping the patient function with his or her disability, thus providing improvement in the patient’s quality of life. Finally, whether it is in self-care, work, or play, quality of life plays an important role in living well.

Short-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

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

  • Learning the ABC’s.
  • Ability to sit next to people in class or a multiple-person location.
  • Learning to dress.
  • How to wash one’s self or brush one’s teeth.
  • Can feed one’s self.
  • Plays with toys.
  • Cuts shapes out of paper.
  • Putting a puzzle together/coordination, such as putting together small LEGOs vs. big ones.
  • Picks up small items.
  • Learns to write and form words or complete sentences.
  • Understands what his or her name, address, and telephone number are.
  • Draws basic shapes.
  • Stands in a school lunch line and picks out food.
  • Learns 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. While occasionally adults need to be completely retrained in all functions the same as a child, it is a more rare occasion. Goals vary based on the disability or age of the child.

  • Learns how to function without pitching a tantrum.
  • Learns how to read.
  • Shares toys.
  • Speaks without stuttering.
  • Gains competence in physical, mental, and motor skills.
  • Can ride a bicycle.
  • Has hand/eye coordination.
  • Grows into a functioning teenager or adult.
  • Plays 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, “normal,” life.

For more information on occupational therapy and how to set goals, check out the AOTA’s site for plenty of informative information. If you want to learn more about setting career goals, see our article, Examples of Long Term Career Goals.

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  • 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.