Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.
What they do
Occupational therapists help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.
They typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks
- Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
- Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals
- Help people with various disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
- Demonstrate exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
- Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory
- Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
- Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment
- Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks. Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. These devices help patients perform a number of daily tasks, allowing them to function more independently.
Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with disabilities, and help children participate in school activities. Therapists also may provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.
Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives. They assess patients’ abilities and environment and make recommendations to improve the patients’ everyday lives. For example, therapists may identify potential fall hazards in a patient’s home and recommend their removal.
In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments. They evaluate the workspace, recommend modifications, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.
Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems. Therapists teach these patients skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them cope with, and engage in, daily life activities. In addition, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or other disorders. They may also work with people who have been through a traumatic event, such as a car accident.
Some occupational therapists, such as those employed in hospitals, work as part of a healthcare team along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. They may work with patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, or help rehabilitate a patient recovering from hip replacement surgery. Occupational therapists also oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients. They also may be required to lift and move patients or heavy equipment. Many work in multiple facilities and have to travel from one job to another.
How to become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy; some therapists have a doctoral degree. Occupational therapists also must be licensed.
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In 2017, there were about 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting. Candidates should contact the program that they are interested in attending about specific requirements.
Master’s programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 and a half years. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available.
Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience. In addition, doctoral programs require a 16-week capstone experience.
All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). To sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and completed all fieldwork requirements.
Therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.
The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of board and specialty certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced or specialized knowledge in areas of practice, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.
The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $84,950 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,490.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 16 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb. However, demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance.
Similar Job Titles
Assistive Technology Trainer, Early Intervention Occupational Therapist, Industrial Rehabilitation Consultant, Occupational Therapist (OT), Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Registered Occupational Therapist, Rehabilitation Supervisor, Staff Occupational Therapist, Staff Therapist
Health Specialties Teacher-Postsecondary, Nursing Instructor and Teacher-Postsecondary, Recreation and Fitness Studies Teacher-Postsecondary, Physical Therapist, Recreational Therapist
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Educational Research Association
- American Occupational Therapy Association
- American Society of Hand Therapists
- American Society on Aging
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy
- Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association
- Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America
- Society for the Study of Occupation: USA
- World Federation of Occupational Therapists
Magazines and Publications
Being self-sufficient in everyday life contributes to a person’s confidence and self-esteem. Occupational therapists – also called OTs – help people develop…recover… and improve their self-sufficiency and the ability to enjoy work and daily activities…more fully. Patients typically seek out the help of OTs due to disability, illness, injury, or mental health issues. They help patients with daily life activities such as feeding themselves, getting ready for work without assistance, using public transportation, and participating in school. OTs work with their patients to identify goals for treatment, then create treatment plans to reach them. Occupational therapists evaluate patients’ homes and workplaces to find ways to better prepare the environment for their needs; for example, labeling cabinets or removing fall hazards. They often educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate the person’s needs, and document patients’ progress throughout the treatment. These therapists work at hospitals, clinics, schools, and nursing homes. They spend a lot of time on their feet, and may lift or move patients. Many travel to meet patients in different settings, and may work evenings and weekends. Being supportive and enthusiastic are important personal qualities for OTs. A master’s degree and a license are required to enter the field; though some positions require a doctoral-level degree. Occupational therapy is often a demanding career, but it’s one that offers a rich reward— helping people lead more active and independent lives.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org