Occupational Therapy

>Occupational therapy is perhaps the most rewarding therapeutic discipline. In fact, occupational therapists (sometimes referred to as OTs or industrial therapists) report experiencing more personal satisfaction with their careers than any other set of professionals. This may be due, in part, to their role in helping people regain control over their lives through the acquisition of basic daily and professional skills. By nature of their work, OTs often boost the independence and feelings of self-worth of their clients. Many successful therapists claim there is no other field in which a professional has the potential to make such profound differences in their clients' lives.

The road to becoming an occupational therapist is not without obstacles. Practicing occupational therapists must hold a master's degree in the discipline. Coursework in occupational therapy programs emphasizes biological science, physiology and human behavior. OTs are also required to complete extensive internships at accredited institutions. Once the aforementioned requirements are met, prospective therapists must pass a state licensure examination.

After obtaining a license, the professional lives of occupational therapists have the potential to be very positive. OTs are in high demand throughout the country, and the average annual starting salary for entry-level therapists is $35,000. Experienced and well-regarded occupational therapists have the potential to make more than $70,000, each year. Most occupational therapists start their careers at hospitals or large rehabilitation centers. After garnering a few years of experience, many OTs will move on to supervisory roles or private practice. Some occupational therapists specialize in specific populations and divide their time among several health care facilities in order to concentrate on their particular area of interest.

Occupational Therapy Job Search

The job prospects for licensed occupational therapists are excellent. There are many job search resources available to occupational therapists.

Occupational therapists seeking employment should look to the human resources departments of hospitals as well as other in- and out-patient health care facilities for therapy job opportunities. Newspaper and Web-based classified advertisements may present additional employment opportunities for OTs. Other employment resources include "headhunters," private employment counselors, career centers administered by city and state governments as well as colleges and universities, private-sector employment agencies and professional association Web sites, such as the site offered by the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.

Therapy professionals have the opportunity to make and cultivate many relationships with like professionals in the region in which they attend school. These relationships may be found in professors, internship supervisors and others with whom they have come in contact. All of the individuals may be used as resources when engaging in an employment search.

Is Occupational Therapy Right for You?

Job prospects are excellent for licensed occupational therapists. OTs are employed by rehabilitation centers, hospitals, schools, long term care insurance companies, long term care facilities and home health care providers. Many occupational therapists operate a private practice, which allows them control over clientele and provided services. Entry-level occupational therapists typically earn approximately $35,000, annually, while more experienced therapists may earn more than $70,000. Occupational therapists typically strive to increase their compensation by gaining experience, taking on supervisory roles and/or going into private practice.

Successful occupational therapists are positive individuals who maintain upbeat attitudes in spite of the myriad challenges that arise during daily therapy sessions. OTs must be innovative, flexible and able to design new therapy programs tailored to the needs of diverse clientele. In occupational therapy, the skills and goals of patients are always unique, and the therapist needs to be sensitive to these differences when developing and executing a therapeutic program.

Occupational Therapy in Action

Occupational therapy careers are filled with numerous challenges and rewards. Occupational therapists work with diverse clientele: infants to elderly, healthy and infirm, motivated and recalcitrant. Additionally, the clients may have very diverse and widely differing abilities, goals and treatment regimens throughout the course of a day. Developing specific and practical plans appropriate for each client is one of the daily challenges encountered by occupational therapists. Before developing treatment plans, OTs review patients' medical charts and meet with the client to determine limitations, goals and aptitudes. This planning process is involved and requires problem solving abilities as well as innovative thinking.

Occupational therapists employ a variety of treatment modalities. In cases where OTs are guiding patients in the quest to acquire daily, personal care skills, therapy may include exercises such as grocery shopping, balancing a budget and cooking. Other clients may need assistance developing skills necessary to finding and maintaining employment; in these cases, therapeutic exercises may include vocational training, professional etiquette and interaction skill development as well as job search tips. Still other clients require schooling in social skills. In this case, OTs may engage clients in role-playing exercises, practice dialogues and opportunities in which the client may practice interpersonal skills. OTs may also instruct clients in the use and care of adaptive equipment, such as motorized wheelchairs, shower-safety seats and even automobiles.

In addition to their hands-on clinical services, occupational therapists must keep copious and detailed records, not only for the purposes of insurance and medical files, but also to track and improve their own performance. Many therapists submit paperwork as part of the patient chart; to government, health care and insurance organizations; and to their own personal file in order to chart progress and unique cases.

Several professional organizations exist to promote the interests and advancement of occupational therapists. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. offers a wealth of resources to prospective and practicing therapists. These resources include job search information to continuing education courses. In addition, most large health care facilities have occupational therapy unions that aim to improve working conditions for therapists.


Last Updated: 09/18/2014

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