Occupational Therapy Business Tips

What Is Occupational Therapy? Everything You Need to Know

updated on

May 31, 2024

What Is Occupational Therapy? Everything You Need to Know

What is occupational therapy? Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that enhances quality of life for clients of all ages. However, compared to other professions, occupational therapy remains widely misunderstood. In this article, we will discuss what occupational therapy is, its educational and licensing requirements, and the settings in which occupational therapists may work.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that uses evaluation and intervention approaches to help clients across the age span participate in meaningful activities and enhance their quality of life. Occupational therapy is essential for recuperation after illness or injury that impacts daily function.

What Is The History Of Occupational Therapy?

Although its roots can be traced back much earlier, occupational therapy education became a recognized program in 1915. Therapists began working with World War I veterans and developed occupational therapy interventions for them. From there, occupational therapy became recognized nationwide and is now recognized across the globe. 

The average person might still feel a little confused about what occupational therapy is, who does it, and exactly what it entails. So, in the next section, let’s talk about the distinction between occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapist Versus Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapists with a master’s degree use the title “Occupational Therapist Registered/Licensed” (OTR/L) and serve in a supervisory capacity. Occupational therapy assistants work under the supervision of the OTR/L. Both clinicians can perform treatment, but only the OTR/L create evaluations and care plans. 

How Does Occupational Therapy Differ From Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy has similarities in education and practice, but occupational therapy education requires at least a master’s degree, while physical therapists who want to clinically practice in the U.S. require at least a clinical doctorate. Requirements vary in other countries for both OT and PT (OTs can practice with a bachelor's degree in many parts of Asia and Australia). However, occupational therapy focuses on self-care and using occupation or “activity” for the purpose of therapeutic intervention. As a matter of fact, occupational therapy is a diverse discipline that leads to many unique specialties.

What Are Some Occupational Therapy Specialties?

Occupational therapy is a versatile practice that supports clinicians in branching out into a multitude of specialties. Occupational therapy specialties include, but are not limited to, community integration, hospital practice, skilled nursing, pediatrics, hand therapy, orthotics, assistive technology, school intervention, home health, and outpatient care.

Each area of practice may require different levels of education or training.

What Degree Do Occupational Therapists Need?

Occupational therapists require at least a master’s degree from an accredited graduate program, which takes up to seven years, in combination with prerequisite and undergraduate work. Occupational therapy assistants require completion of a 2-year COTA certification program, also accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

How Much Schooling Is Needed To Become An OT?

A master’s degree in occupational therapy requires a bachelor’s degree plus prerequisite classes. A clinical doctorate or PhD takes up to another 3 years.

Obtaining an occupational therapy assistant degree requires the certification program plus prerequisite coursework to qualify for the program. 

Clinical Hours Needed

Accredited occupational therapy programs come laced with fieldwork hours. Students complete a series of level I (part-time) and level II (12-week full-time) positions to graduate and qualify to sit for the exam. COTA students must complete 16 weeks’ worth of clinical hours and all students are supervised by a licensed practitioner. 

Volunteer Hours Needed

Volunteer hours must be completed prior to the application process in order to qualify for an occupational therapy program. A master’s degree program requires at least 40 hours, divided between two settings. A COTA program typically requires up to the same amount of hours, which involves direct hands-off work with a licensed occupational therapist.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Exam You Have to Pass

Once an occupational therapy student qualifies for graduation, their program helps them submit forms to sit for the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). The NBCOT provides separate examination requirements for master’s degree and COTA students. Once passed, the student earns an OTR or COTA title.

Licensing Needed

After a student graduates and passes the NBCOT, they qualify to apply for a license to practice legally in their state of residence. Occupational therapy students reach out to their state licensing division, fill out the application, and pay an annual fee to keep their licensing status active.

Advanced Certifications

State and national associations provide dozens, if not hundreds, of advanced certification opportunities for occupational therapists. Some advanced certifications include: gerontology, autism specialists, brain injury specialists, hand therapy, hippotherapy, assistive technology, dementia care, feeding specialists, psychiatric rehabilitation, and so much more.

How Often Do You Need Continuing Education Credits to Keep Your License?

The NBCOT requires occupational therapy practitioners to accrue at least 36 CEUs (continuing education units) every three years. Each state licensure requires their own number of CEUs or professional development units (PDUs) to maintain the legal ability to practice. In accordance with ethical practice, random audits are conducted.

How Do Clinicians Obtain Occupational Therapy CEUs?

Since occupational therapy is a close-knit community nationwide, gathering occupational therapy CEUs is attainable through social media and word-of-mouth. Occupational therapists can sit through in-person classes, view webinars, and read current evidence-based literature to earn credit according to their state and national regulations. 

What Is The Average Salary Occupational Therapists Make?

The average salary for an occupational therapist in the United States is currently $86k per year. A COTA makes approximately $52k. Occupational therapy salaries vary greatly depending on state, clinical setting, position, and experience. Calculations take into account managerial and administration positions across the country.

What Is The Job Outlook For Occupational Therapy?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapy employment is expected to grow 12 percent from 2022 to 2032. Each year, 9,600 job openings for occupational therapists appear due to expanding clinical settings, transfers, and the retirement of current therapists. 

Since the job outlook is so great, occupational therapy provides the opportunity for clinicians to practice in a wide variety of settings. 

What Is The Job Outlook For Occupational Therapy?

Where Can Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational therapists are embedded across the healthcare community in multiple settings, permitted to work and provide services within their scopes of practice. This includes private clinics, geriatric facilities, hospitals, schools, community centers, fitness centers, home health companies, summer camps, and so much more.

Do Occupational Therapists Go Back to School?

Occupational therapy assistants frequently return to school to earn an occupational therapy master’s degree, becoming more marketable. Some therapists may wish to go further to earn a doctorate degree to participate in research or academics, while some may seek additional education to advance in a specialty such as hand therapy. 

Job Flexibility for Occupational Therapists

Many occupational therapists will jump into a full-time position fresh out of graduate school. Some clinicians may choose part-time work, PRN (as needed), or even tackle a private business practice. Due to the recession-proof nature of the job, occupational therapy offers much flexibility. 

What Software Should OTs Use To Manage Their Practice?

To optimize practice in any occupational therapy setting, practitioners need the best occupational therapy software. No matter the setting, software for occupational therapists should enhance occupational therapy SOAP notes and other clinical documentation.

Occupational therapists are welcome to start their free trial at ClinicSense today. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is occupational therapy?” you can learn more about the profession to see if it’s right for you as a prospective client or future practitioner.

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