What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do? An occupational therapist is a health care professional who helps their clients overcome activity and occupation barriers. Occupational therapists work with different kinds of clients in various settings.

The Typical Occupational Therapist

Most occupational therapists work in health care organizations, such as hospitals or physician offices. Their primary job is to help acutely ill or injured patients recover and improve basic life skills. They do this through observations, interviews and patient history reviews. They develop personalized treatment plans for their patients. Many occupational therapists specialize in particular fields and only work with certain patients, such as those injured at work or recovering from cancer. In fact, occupational therapists who specialize in work injuries must continually communicate with employers, insurance companies and workers’ compensation agencies. They often advocate for injured workers when unscrupulous employers attempt to make the injured return to work early.

The Atypical Occupational Therapist

Other occupational therapists work with people who have permanent physical limitations, such as the disabled or the mentally ill. Occupational therapists will teach these patients how to perform daily tasks through using specially designed adaptive equipment, such as leg braces or wheelchairs. These unique devices help patients accomplish basic tasks so they can function more independently. Other occupational therapists work in educational settings with disabled children. They work with special education teachers to help meet disabled children’s needs through things like modifying classroom settings or helping the children participate in regular school activities.

Occupational Therapist Services

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupational therapists often provide interventions for their clients. For example, developmental occupational therapists provide early intervention services for developmentally delayed infants and toddlers. The goal of planned interventions is to create lifelong development plans with measurable goals. However, sometimes adults with mental health problems are diagnosed late in life. These individuals will need assistance learning how to accomplish basic life activities, such as balancing a checkbook, taking public transportation and even cooking simple foods. Still, there are also occupational therapists who exclusively work with recovering drug and alcohol addicts. They provide individualized evaluations, structured support and continual feedback. These occupational therapists must have clinical training with substance abuse treatment therapies and practices.

What Education is Required?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that an occupational therapist is usually required to have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The AOTA has accredited over 150 college programs (please see: Top 10 Best Online Health Science Degree Programs). In addition to this, all states require occupational therapists to pass a national exam that is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists (NBCOT). In order to participate in the NBCOT exam, candidates must have an accredited degree and meet all fieldwork requirements. After successfully passing the NBCOT exam, candidates are entitled to use the official title of “Occupational Therapist Registered” (OTR). In order to maintain certification, occupational therapists must take continuing education classes. Finally, the AOTA also offers occupational therapists a limited number of certifications in specialty fields.

Occupational therapists are health care professionals who help their patients learn or re-learn how to perform basic skills and functions. Occupational therapists help their clients regain normalcy and live a fulfilling life. Being an occupational therapist is a rewarding, yet challenging career that requires patience, compassion and excellent communication skills.