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Occupational Therapy – A Career Helping People Recover

Occupational Therapy – A Career Helping People Recover

General Overview

The main role of the occupational therapist is to assist people who have been injured or who have been disabled since birth to recover or learn the skills using adaptations that will help them be more independent in everyday life. Occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy are often confused. OT deals mainly with fine motor skills, such as using hands; physical therapy deals with the big muscle groups and associated skills, such as walking. Occupational therapy was rated the ninth least stressful job in America by “US News and World Report.”

Patients may make slow progress towards their goals. They may ignore instructions to practice therapy at home. Sometimes they even resent the time spent going to therapy and are angry that they even have to be there. In all of these situations, the occupational therapist must remain patient and try to motivate the patient and give him or her a view of what the future could be like if they follow through with instructions from the therapist.

Required Education

All OTs in the United States have gone through a master’s-level program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). To graduate a pre-service occupational therapist must demonstrate his or her knowledge in a clinical setting for at least 24 hours. This field work is supervised. After graduating with a master’s degree, the next step is passing the national certification test. If passed, this test entitles the therapist to use the title “Occupational Therapist Registered” or OTR after his or her name.

Students who plan to continue their education in an OT master’s program can get undergraduate degrees in sociology, anthropology, psychology, liberal arts, biology or anatomy. Other similar bachelor’s degrees also go well with a master’s in occupational therapy. The actual OT courses include study of the behavioral sciences, physical sciences, life sciences and applying OT theory.

At present, ACOTE accredits four doctoral programs and 150 master’s and combined bachelor’s/master’s OT programs in the United States.

The top five occupational therapy programs in America, as ranked by “U. S. News and World Report” are as follows: Boston College Sargent, Washington University St. Louis, University of Southern California, University of Illinois Chicago, Tufts University Boston and the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Job Growth Expectations

Ranking as one of the top 50 best careers of 2010 by “U. S. News and World Report, ” occupational therapy is predicted to grow faster than other jobs. This is according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Work with the elderly in the OT field will be a large part of the increase.

Between 2008 and 2018, the number of OTs is expected to rise by 26%. In 2008, 105,000 people worked as OTs. By 2018, 131,300 people are expected to be working as OTs.


Mental health facilities, home health care services, public and private schools, hospitals and nursing homes are the main places where occupational therapists find work. A few work for themselves.

The average OT salary in 2008, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $67,780. The bottom 10% of therapists earned below $42,820 and the top 10% earned over $98,310 per year.

The average salary of an OT working in home health care services is $74,510 a year. OTs working in nursing homes earned about $72,510 a year and those doing occupational therapy in schools earned considerably less at $60,020 per year.