Occupational therapy (OT) is a unique profession in which you help various people in different stages of their life. If you want to learn how to become an occupational therapist and what responsibilities the job entails, check out our guide below on how to become an occupational therapist today.
There is a high demand for occupational therapists and the job can be very rewarding and well-paying, so continue reading if such a career sounds appealing to you.
What Is an Occupational Therapist?
An occupational therapist is a health professional who comes up with ways for people to get work done, take care of themselves, and stay active. These people work with those who may have a disability, injury, or illness that makes it harder for them to take care of themselves, complete housework, schoolwork, or do their job.
Occupational therapists go through training where they focus on specific types of treatment, such as working with adults or children. They often work alongside doctors, psychologists, physical therapists, and other professionals to help their patients improve their way of life.
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
An occupational therapist works with people of all ages. They help them with activities that may be difficult due to illness or injury. The work of an OT varies based on the patient’s circumstances. Below are some of the duties of an occupational therapist.
Train You to Use Assistive Devices
The primary duty of an occupational therapist is to help you complete daily activities. They may do this by training you to use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or a raised toilet seat.
Set Goals and Plans for Your Needs
Occupational therapists set goals to help you overcome your limits, disability, or injury. They may train you to change your movements, increase your hand-eye coordination, or do regular tasks in an easier way.
When an adult has a stroke or experiences a significant life-threatening event, an occupational therapist helps them recover. Some of their work involves helping adults improve their balance or muscle strength. They also help them adapt to speech problems, find new ways to get in and out of the shower, use a computer, or button their shirt.
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Helping Children with Behavior Problems
Children who have an issue with acting out or hitting others may need the help of an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists can help children overcome their behavioral issues and channel their energy into something more positive.
Occupational therapists don’t just work with their patients. They also educate the people at the patient’s workplace and home about their patient’s health needs and how to accommodate them in a particular environment.
Essential Occupational Therapist Skills
OTs have different clients with different problems. In order to make a case successful, you must come up with a strategy to solve their problems. There will be situations where a solution isn’t easy or you must come up with a creative way to help someone overcome their situation. Whatever the case may be, you must always be ready to solve any problem that comes your way.
Skilled OTs must have strong organizational skills. They must manage their own and their client’s schedules. They also have to maintain documents, book appointments, and hold meetings with other professionals. Being organized plays an important role in providing proper treatment and care to patients.
Patience is arguably the most important skill an occupational therapist needs. There are times when occupational therapists deal with patients who are stubborn, frustrated, depressed, or rude. In response, occupational therapists must keep their patience and deal with the situation properly. They cannot let their client’s anger or frustration get to them, and must instead rise above it to help them.
Adaptability and Flexibility
Occupational therapists must be able to adapt and be flexible with each patient they treat. The therapy used to treat one patient may not work for another. Occupational therapists have to analyze and take care of each situation as it comes to them.
Empathy and Compassion
People who become OTs typically have a desire to help others. It’s important to empathize and feel compassion toward your client. Most of the people occupational therapists treat aren’t just struggling physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. OTs have to understand their clients and connect with them for the best results.
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Occupational Therapist Salaries and Job Outlook
Occupational therapists make an average of $88,971 in the United States, according to Salary.com. The bottom 10 percent earn $74,692 and the highest 10 percent earn $104,182. The factors that determine how much an occupational therapist earns include education, years of experience, certifications, and additional skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an 18 percent increase in the number of available occupational therapist jobs by 2028, which is much higher than the average outlook for other professions.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Occupational Therapist?
It takes five to seven years to become an occupational therapist. This means four years of undergraduate study to earn your bachelor’s degree. Then, you’ll go to occupational therapy school and earn your master’s degree, which takes two or three years to complete.
There are ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete your studies, such as participating in an accelerated program. Keep in mind that each state has its own regulations and rules for becoming an occupational therapist. Find out what the requirements are in your state to become a licensed occupational therapist.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist: A Step by Step Guide
With enough time and patience, anyone has the potential to become an occupational therapist. Below is a step-by-step guide on how you can work in this career field.
Step 1: Earn Your Degree
The first step to becoming an occupational therapist is to earn a graduate degree. If you want to become an occupational therapist, you’ll need a master’s degree. All states, except for Colorado, require you have a master’s degree to become an occupational therapist.
Step 2: Pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy Exam
After you’ve earned your degree, you must pass this exam to become a practicing occupational therapist. Each state has different requirements for their licenses, but you’ll have to pay an application fee, pass a background check, and submit your official college transcripts.
Afterward, you’ll take the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. If you do not pass, you’ll have to wait 45 days to retake it. The cost to take the exam is $540 on paper and $500 online. Some states require you to have a score report or a confirmation notice, which costs an additional $40 and $45, respectively.
Step 3: Apply for Your License
Each state has different requirements for licensure, but most require you to submit an application fee, all official transcripts, a background check, and your NBCOT results.
If you do receive your license, you’ll have to continue your education to maintain it. Each state has a different number of continuing education hours you must complete to keep your license. For example, Iowa requires you to spend 30 hours in continuing education, but Alabama only requires 15. You must also renew your license on time, which is every two years.
Should You Become an Occupational Therapist?
Occupational therapy is a rewarding profession for those who love to help people. People of all ages and walks of life are in need of an OT to help them get through normal, daily activities. While the work is challenging and even stressful at times, it feels great to improve someone’s way of life.
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As a profession, the average pay for an occupational therapist is higher than most careers. It does require several years of study, but the average pay rate, the high job outlook, and demand make it a profession worth investing your time and money into.
If you have a desire to work in a field where you can help others, then you should become an occupational therapist. It is difficult and trying, but the benefits make it all worth it.
Occupational Therapist FAQ
What education do you need to become an occupational therapist?
While some occupational therapists earned just a bachelor’s degree in the past, new standards require entry-level occupational therapists to have a master’s degree. However, you can work as an occupational therapist assistant with just an associate degree.
How long does it take to earn your degree in occupational therapy?
It takes five to seven years. Three to four years in an undergraduate program and two to three in a graduate degree program for occupational therapy.
Are occupational therapy jobs in high demand?
Yes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that occupational therapy jobs are rising with a projected growth rate of over 20 percent.
Where do occupational therapists typically work?
Occupational therapists commonly work at hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, schools, and assisted living spaces.
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