Occupational therapists help patients perform a variety of tasks in working and living environments. Patients include those who suffer from a disabling condition. Therapists develop treatment plans to help patients develop or recover the basic skills they may have lost due to a mental, emotional, developmental or physical disability. An occupational therapist’s career goal is to help his patients lead productive, fulfilling and independent lives.
Occupational therapists help patients perform various tasks such as using a computer, cooking, eating, dressing and exercising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states, “Occupational therapists also use computer programs to help clients improve decision-making, abstract-reasoning, problem-solving and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing and coordination—all of which are important for independent living.” Therapists might assess the patient’s progress by planning work activities, analyzing work spaces and contacting employers. Therapists must keep accurate records of each client’s progress.
Occupational therapists may work with particular age groups or those with a certain disability. Some may work in schools with children to help evaluate their capabilities, provide therapy and help them participate in more school activities. Other therapists may work exclusively with the elderly, helping them live active healthy lifestyles. Therapists might work with disabled patients by helping them cope with daily tasks. Occupational therapists work in rehabilitation centers. They must be able to lift and move patients and equipment. Some may work for multiple employers at once, so they may be required to travel frequently. Most full-time employees work 40 hours per week.
Occupational therapists usually need a minimum of a master’s degree in occupational therapy in order to enter the field. Therapists must complete a program by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education in order to take the national certification examination. Part of the curriculum includes at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, according to the BLS. Those who graduate from the program and pass the exam are called occupational therapist registered and are given a license to practice. Some states require therapists to participate in continuing education programs in order to remain licensed.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for occupational therapists in 2009 was $70,680. The top earners in the field made $100,430, while the lowest 10 percent earned $45,340. Therapists employed by home health care services earned the most money. Those employed by elementary and secondary schools earned the least.
Advancement Opportunities and Job Outlook
Occupational therapists oversee therapy aides and assistants. Therapists may advance in their careers by accepting more administrative responsibilities in rehab centers or hospitals. Another way occupational therapists can advance in their careers is to specialize in a specific clinical area and gain experience in that area. An occupational therapist’s specialty could include mental health, physical rehab, gerontology or pediatrics. Some may go on to become teachers in the field. The job outlook for occupational therapists was expected to grow 26 percent from 2008 to 2018. As the elderly population increases, the demand for therapists will increase because the elderly are more susceptible to debilitating conditions that require therapists’ services.
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