Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that involves treating conditions and developing human performance related to several different elements of the human experience, including school, work, and daily living activities. Like many healthcare professions, the respective roles of different occupational therapists can vary widely. Although the term “occupational therapy” may seem to apply specifically to work and job related activities, the discipline spans most activities that occupy a person, including many daily living tasks that have nothing to do with employment.
Occupational Therapists spend their time improving the lives of those they work with.
At any particular hospital, clinic, school, human resource office, home, or other work venues that involve occupational therapy, a therapist might be found doing any number of the following activities among thousands of others:
- assessing someone’s dexterity level using one of dozens of available testing methods
- teaching a disabled patient to use a reaching tool to access items on a shelf
- performing a functional capacity evaluation and creating a treatment plan based upon the results
- helping a patient shop for an appropriate mobility device
- assessing a person’s range of motion
What does an occupational therapist do? Here’s a video overview of a day in the life of an occupational therapist.
Occupational Therapy versus Physical Therapy
In many ways, the activities of occupational therapy overlap with those done by a physical therapist. There are some notable differences between the occupational and physical therapy. Occupation therapists tend to deal more directly with a patient’s environment and not only improving the capacity of an individual to perform tasks, but on altering his environment to improve conditions.
Physical therapists focus more directly on overcoming an individual’s limitations through muscular rehabilitation, massage, ultrasound and electrical stimulation therapies, and other means. The physical therapy discipline is not as concerned about altering a patient’s environment as occupational therapy.
Education and Licensing
Like most medical disciplines, occupational therapist licensing is regulated at the state level. Most states require at least a 4-year degree from an accredited school. Some require additional schooling beyond a BS degree to be fully licensed to practice as a certified occupational therapist. Most states’ licensing procedure involve passing the NBCOT Exam administered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy.
Occupational therapy is a career that is high in demand. The median annual salary for occupational therapists is about $74,000. Some portion of occupational therapists begin their careers working in a clinic or other environment for several years before moving on to start their own practices.
Resources for Occupational Therapists
The American Occupational Therapy Association represents the interests of occupational therapists and indirectly those within their sphere of healthcare. There are also state-level occupational therapy associations throughout the United States.