Occupational therapists help patients improve their ability to perform tasks in living and working environments. They work with individuals who have physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling conditions that impact their daily living and work skills. Occupational therapists help patients to enhance basic motor functions and reasoning abilities. They also help patients to compensate for permanent loss of function. Their goal is to enable patients to achieve independent, productive and satisfying lives.
When ability is diminished or impaired, occupational therapists work with patients to restore performance in everyday life activities including self-care, leisure, and work. For patients with permanent disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, therapists develop ways for them to accomplish tasks through compensation and modified actions. This may include adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and aids for eating and dressing. Therapists may even design or build special equipment needed by a patient at home or work.
Occupational therapists may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group or with a particular disability. For example, in schools, they evaluate children’s capabilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and help children participate in school activities. Therapists might provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have or are at risk of having developmental delays. Other examples include working with elderly patients to help them lead more productive, active, and independent lives, or working in mental health settings to treat individuals who are mentally ill, developmentally challenged, or emotionally disturbed.
- Offices of healthcare practitioners
- Rehabilitation centers
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Long-term care facilities
- Home health care
The work environment will depend on the specific work setting. In large rehabilitation centers, therapists work in spacious rooms equipped with many home, living, and work settings to help patients adapt to/overcome physical or mental impairments. The work of occupational therapists can be tiring because they are on their feet much of the time, and the work can involve lifting and moving clients and equipment. Therapists working full-time usually work a 40-hour week. Those working part-time, or for more than one employer may have a more variable schedule.
Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 26 percent through the year 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The outlook is especially good for therapists in hospitals, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings due to the growing elderly population who receive most of their treatment in these settings.
- Ability to learn the techniques of occupational therapy
- Good verbal abilities to read, write and speak
- Good space and form perception and manual dexterity
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems
- Objective view of illnesses and disabilities
- Ability to motivate people
- Patience and a desire to help others
The minimum educational requirement is an entry-level masters or clinical doctorate in occupational therapy from an accredited institution. Students considering this profession often pursue undergraduate majors in biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts or anatomy.
All States regulate the practice of occupational therapy. An applicant for a license to practice as an occupational therapist must complete the requirements of an approved program, complete six months of supervised fieldwork, and pass the certification exam.
Programs in Nebraska
Related / Links
Other careers with similar duties:
- Athletic trainer
- Physical therapist
- Recreational therapist
- Respiratory therapist
- Speech-language pathologist
For more information about a career in occupational therapy:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Occupational Therapists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov