How To Obtain Your Occupational Therapy Degree

Occupational therapy is a profession that deals with health and rehabilitation. These therapists work with a wide range of different people and assist in helping them achieve independence and boost productivity. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages to help with their physical, emotional, and social problems. The “occupation” used by these therapists include work and play, as well as self-care, to aid their clients.

Occupational therapy will help those struggling to achieve their goals of independence, prevent disability, and enhance their overall development and well-being. Needless to say, occupational therapy is a widely popular and important skill. If you’ve always wished to help those around you and are interested in new techniques in assisting others, occupational therapy may be for you.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy

Many people may be confused as to the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy. The requirements needed in order to obtain a degree in occupational therapy are different than those needed for physical therapy. However, both professions use similar therapy techniques on occasion but their goals are quite different.

There are many differences between the 2 professions.

Physical therapy is essentially all about helping someone regain physical mobility, including strength, balance and flexibility to name a few. Physical therapists work with people to improve their posture, regain strength after an accident or surgery, as well as help those who may have been born with a defect.

Occupational therapists help those with illness or a disability to learn how to take care of themselves and participate in meaningful activities. These activities may be driving, eating by themselves and even working. In addition to helping their clients re-engage in meaningful activities, occupational therapists work with the environment around their clients to ensure the person can have an easier time performing tasks that are important to them. One big difference between physical therapists and occupational therapists is that occupational therapy requires training with people who have mental or emotional disorders and illnesses.

Occupational Therapy as a Career

Occupational therapists work within a wide variety of settings and areas. These locations may include, but not be limited to, hospitals, schools, industry, community or private agencies, within homes, workplaces and outpatient clinics. As more people realize the profound benefits of occupational therapy, the locations in which it can be practiced grow.

The job outlook and salary is very decent for occupational therapists. Even after the job market contraction, occupational therapy is still booming. According to studies the need for occupational therapists isn’t going to die down anytime in the near future. Salaries for occupational therapy have risen as well. The median annual salary for an Occupational Therapist is $80,150 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as of May 2015). Naturally regional differences and setting differences will affect your salary. Additional information regarding OT salary ranges and salary outlook can be found here and here.

Becoming an Occupational Therapist

It is important to note the requirements you need to be a certified occupational therapist. Understanding the job duties and specific qualifications is vital in ensuring occupational therapy is the right career for you.

Career Requirements

Occupational therapists work with people who have been injured or disabled in some way that hinders their ability to live independently. These might be elderly people that want to be more active and independent or children who are struggling in school. Due to the nature of their work, occupational therapists work in a wide range of different areas.

In terms of educational requirements, occupational therapists must have at least a master’s degree. Their degree field must be in occupational therapy and they will need a state license to practice. Other important training to have includes CPR and BCLS. Personal skills to have includes excellence in communication and interactions with others and compassion as well as patience. Other useful skills include such things as writing.

Three Steps to Occupational Therapy Certification

Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree

Your first step in becoming certified to practice Occupational Therapy is to get your Bachelor’s degree. There are a few different choices for majors that will assist in becoming a certified occupational therapist. Some of these choices include anthropology, sociology, and psychology. You can choose a school that offers accelerated programs or even dual-degrees if possible. If you chose the right path you could obtain both your bachelor’s and master’s within only 5 years.

Earning Your Master’s

It takes roughly two years for a student to complete their Master’s degree after obtaining their Bachelor’s. Generally, potential occupational therapists will spend their year earning their Master’s degree learning about anatomy, patient care, and assistive technology in their field and social/medical conditions. During this time fieldwork is essential. This fieldwork can take place in nursing homes, rehab centers, schools or even private practices. It usually takes about 24 weeks on average to complete these field experiences.

Getting Your License

After receiving your degrees it’s time for the final third step in becoming certified to practice occupational therapy: becoming licensed in your state. These state licenses are a strict requirement. In order to receive this license you must have:

  •   Graduated from an accredited occupational therapy program
  •   Have complete necessary fieldwork
  •   Passed the NBCOT exam

After all of these requirements have been documented and passed you will be granted the OTR or Occupational Therapist Registered Credential. The OTR is mandatory to receive your license but voluntary thereafter. Many therapists choose to maintain this certificate actively by continuing their education.

You should check your local state requirements before applying to an OT program. Your state might have specific requirements that you should complete prior to becoming an OT. Additional state license information can be found here.