Occupational Therapy is a branch of Social Services that emphasizes on assisting in the development of skills and rehabilitation of people with physical or mental disabilities, aiming to provide them with the necessary skills and tools to achieve complete independence and function as regular members of society.
Occupational Therapists organize and carry out programs especially designed to help people, promote healthy habits, and provide them with the confidence necessary to seek out independence and resume their daily lives. In order to perform their job, these professionals take advantage of the latest technology, physical exercise, and counsel to help their patients.
Health centers, schools, and Social Services agencies are the usual places where Occupational Therapists work. Some of these professionals, however, choose to be self-employed and offer their services to individuals or groups independently.
Most Occupational Therapists work with children born with developmental delay or disability from a very young age. They educate the parents on ways to provide their child with whatever they require and teaching the children how to get around their disability in order to have a good quality of life. These Occupational Therapists often advocate for the children with the help of charitable organizations looking to provide medical care and special equipment (e.g. wheelchairs, prosthetics, or hearing aids) when necessary.
Occupational Therapists working with adults often help people that have suffered some kind of injury and have lost mobility or mental capacity as a result. In these cases, they provide the necessary counseling and psychological help these individuals need, as well as training in how to re-adapt to regular life after the trauma in return-to-work programs. They may also work with patients suffering from dementia and chronic pains.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Occupational Therapists are required to complete.
- Evaluating patients’ physical and mental capacities:
- Testing physical and mental limitations of patients;
- analyzing the patient’s data and background; and
- planning treatment based on the analysis.
- Planning and organizing Occupational Therapy sessions for patients:
- Liaising with hospitals, clinics, and health centers to carry sessions;
- educating parents and caregivers on how to assist patients;
- selecting activities to facilitate patients’ learning and skill development, taking their mental or physical limitations into consideration;
- assisting patients in developing skills so as to achieve independence; and
- recommending changes in the patient’s environment to better fit their needs.
- Researching and requesting special equipment to assist patients (e.g. splints, braces, and learning assisting software):
- Training patients and non-medical caregivers on the use of special equipment.
- Liaising with Physicians and rehabilitation specialists regarding patients suffering from loss of mobility:
- Designing special equipment to assist patients;
- planning and scheduling rehabilitation sessions;
- providing patients with encouragement and counsel;
- completing and maintaining a record of patients; and
- assisting patients to recover their independence.
- Planning and organizing health programs to raise awareness:
- Researching information on conditions and disabilities;
- reaching out and inviting communities to participate in the planned activities;
- advising companies and workers on health hazards;
- promoting presentations and conferences; and
- facilitating social adjustment through awareness.
- Conducting interviews to assess each patient’s case.
- Analyzing patient’s capabilities and limitations.
- Liaising with medical personnel to obtain more information.
- Developing programs designed to assist patients in skill development.
- Instructing parents and non-medical caregivers on how to handle the patient.
- Conducting activities aimed to teach patients health and life-supporting habits.
- Instructing patients and caregivers in the use of special equipment.
- Maintaining records of patients.
- Raising health awareness in communities.
The average Occupational Therapist salary in USA is $76,536 per year or $39 per hour. This is around 2.7 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $54,000 while most experienced workers make up to $107,000. These results are based on 3,495 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Outstanding interpersonal and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly and confidently, both in writing and verbally, in order to accurately provide counsel;
- using tact, patience, and good judgment when communicating with individuals, families, and groups to maintain effective and collaborative relationships;
- being a great listener, as well as being able to easily and efficiently identify the patient’s needs and difficulties (e.g. physical or mental disabilities); and
- being an effective team player.
- Strong sense of empathy and compassion:
- Demonstrating sensitivity to individual needs of people;
- displaying an inherent ability to make patients feel cared about;
- gaining their patients’ trust; and
- being able to work within a multicultural environment, showing consideration and respect to a diverse range of individuals and families of all backgrounds.
- Optimistic, enthusiastic, with a can-do attitude and a strong ability to motivate others.
- High levels of creativity, initiative, flexibility, and responsiveness, as well as strong problem-solving and analytical skills:
- Adapting well to changing demands;
- being able to translate ideas into practical goals;
- being patient, especially when dealing with patients that are depressed, stressed, or in pain;
- creating health plans that adapt to each patient’s needs and requirements; and
- using creativity and imagination to develop new insights and to apply new solutions to problems.
- Strong organizational and administrative skills:
- Making use of a pre-established budget to organize activities and events;
- organizing group activities (e.g. meetings, lectures, or support groups); and
- monitoring activities being carried out.
- Intuition and decision-making skills:
- Being able to exercise great judgment, redirecting individuals to appropriate resources as needed.
- Exceptional professionalism and strong work ethic:
- Being trustworthy enough to handle sensitive/confidential information.
Job opportunities for Occupational Therapists can be found in hospitals, clinics, and other health centers, as well as in schools, community centers, and government bodies. The educational requirement to work as one is having a master or doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy from an Occupational Therapy program approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, which is part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Employers also require applicants to be certified by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) in order to apply for this position. To obtain the certification, aspirants must take and pass a national examination, as well as have a degree from an accredited institution and perform field-related work. Once certified, they will receive the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) title. Some states require aspirants to pass a local exam and requirements may vary from state to state.
Additional certifications are offered by the American Occupational Therapy Association, like the Board Certification in Gerontology or the Board Certification in Mental Health. Although not mandatory, these certifications can demonstrate an Occupational Therapist’s skills. These professionals may also need a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification.
As for experience, applicants are often required to have at least two 2 years of previous work experience in Social Services, which can be obtained through volunteer work.