How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists assist people in the recovery or retention of the skills that they need to function in their life or work, and to begin your occupational therapist education and training requires an undergraduate degree in any field to get started.

Education and Certification

Most occupational therapists have an undergraduate degree, as well as a graduate degree in occupational therapy. There are over one hundred schools that offer graduate degrees in occupational therapy in the U.S. and you can find the recognized programs on the American Occupational Therapy Association website. This website also includes information for prospective students in graduate level occupational therapy, as well as information for people who want to become an occupational therapist assistant. Some of these programs will also include information on distance learning in occupational therapy.

Once you have completed your graduate degree, you will also have to complete a six-month supervised placement to complete your training in occupational therapy. You will also have to continue with ongoing professional development throughout your career as an occupational therapist.

All states regulate occupational therapists, which means that you must meet the minimum requirements for the state where you want to live and work, which includes completing a graduate degree, as well as passing a national certification examination.

Tips and Advice

Occupational therapists will work with all types of people in the healthcare setting, which will include the ill and recovering, the chronically ill and the terminally ill. It can be depressing to know that despite your best efforts, that your patients may never become completely well, and that they may even die while in treatment. Therefore it is recommended that you get some experience working or volunteering in a healthcare setting, prior to applying to a graduate program in occupational therapy or before completing your six-month placement, so you can evaluate the work environment.

Though there is a preference for persons with an educational background in health sciences, such as kinesiology, or the sciences, such as physiology, students in the social sciences, education and humanities can also apply to occupational therapy programs. Occupational therapists need to teach new skills, understand how people learn and act as good communicators with patients and colleagues, so if you are good at communicating, and can keep accurate and organized records, a skill you must employ with your treatment plans, you are a good candidate for a career in occupational therapy.

Different Types of Work

Occupational therapists usually work in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital, rehabilitation clinic or in medical offices. You may also be expected to travel to a patient's home or to a healthcare facility to provide services.

Some occupational therapists specialize based on the type of client, which means that some therapists will work with the elderly, with stroke or brain injury rehabilitation or with persons who have a lifelong illness or genetic illness, such as muscular dystrophy. You can also specialize in the types of therapy that you will use, such as different mechanisms for therapy or types of exercises.

The average salary for all types of occupational therapists was $60,000 per year.

As the population ages and survival rates from traumatic injury or disease improve, there will be more need for occupational therapists.