What is Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapy: A Health and Rehabilitation Profession

Occupational therapy is a rewarding profession in which therapists help improve the lives and health of people who need special assistance, providing rehabilitation that enables them to lead productive, satisfying lives. Occupational therapy encompasses treatment for individuals with physical, emotional, social or developmental problems. As an occupational therapist, you often can work part-time, depending on the type of institution you work for, which allows you to have more time to spend with your family and children.

Job Description

An occupational therapist performs any type of individualized therapy based on a person’s needs. Therapists help with rehabilitation after surgery and assist those recovering from social, emotional and developmental inadequacies. They help their patients develop, recover and improve their lives while maintaining the skills for daily living and working in their environment. Occupational therapists use everyday activities to achieve these goals with their patients. Some things that are taken for granted by most people, may be hard for a patient to do. Some activities may help with dexterity with their hands through puzzles or learning to walk again in a controlled environment.

Occupational therapists have many duties, including evaluation and observation of people to determine their needs. They also educate family members and develop treatment plans for their patients. They can teach patients how to perform everyday tasks, such as rehabilitation to aid recovery after a stroke. Therapists evaluate homes to help improve their patients’ quality of life by recommending equipment such as wheelchairs, leg braces and eating aids. Additionally, they show their patients how to use the items to gain more independence. With the hands-on therapy, you can see a patient gaining or regaining skills as a result of your help. This is part of the reason why this professional is so rewarding to a therapist.

Education Requirements

Becoming an occupational therapist requires several years of education as well as clinical training. An occupational therapist must earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Undergraduate courses should include general physics, physiology, organic chemistry and human anatomy. To be accepted into a master’s program, students must maintain a grade point average above 3.3 and work as an occupational therapy assistant or perform volunteer work.

The entrance exams vary greatly for master’s degree programs. You may need up to 150 hours of clinical experience along with letters of recommendation from therapists you worked with and your professors. The master’s degree program generally takes about 2.5 years to complete. The final year is usually focused on working directly with licensed occupational therapists and patients while undergoing close supervision.

To work as an occupational therapist, you also must get a license in the state in which you want to work. This requires not only applying for the license, but completing fieldwork, passing the NBCOT certification examination and paying a fee. Each state has slightly different requirements, so check the State Regulatory Contact List for the states in which you wish to practice. To maintain your license, the board will examine your continuing education units for renewal after you pay a fee. This also varies from state to state.

You will earn a very good salary as an occupational therapist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary is $81,910. The lower 25th percentile salary is $67,140 as of late 2017, while those in the 75th percentile earn approximately $99,300.

Work Settings

As an occupational therapist, you can work in a variety of organizations, including school systems, outpatient clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health organizations, hospitals, outpatient clinics, prisons and other community settings. In most of these settings, you’ll work with people with permanent disabilities or with elderly patients, helping them to thrive and lead more active and independent lives. In mental health settings, you’ll help people struggling with developmental or emotional disabilities or with mental illness. A hospital or clinical setting usually means working closely with doctors and registered nurses to tend to patients as a member of a health care team.

If you choose to work with children, you may work in an educational setting to evaluate the children’s abilities and modify classroom equipment to accommodate them as well as to help them participate in school-sponsored activities. Working with babies means you most likely will be helping infants who have suffered a brain injury.

You may be required to prepare occupational therapy handouts detailing the types of services offered. This information helps the family assess the child’s abilities and disabilities to get treatment specific to their child.

Years of Experience

Occupational therapists earn a good living early in their careers. Like most all professions, the wages rise as you gain more years of experience. The median salaries for various experience levels are:

  • 0‒5 years: $66,000
  • 5‒10 years: $76,000
  • 10‒20 years: $82,000
  • Over 20 years: $86,000

Job Growth Trend

The job outlook for occupational therapists is very good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this field will grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than other occupations.

A rising demand exists for occupational therapists to help people with illnesses and disabilities resulting from cerebral palsy, autism, loss of a limb and Alzheimer’s disease.