How to become an occupational therapist

Job description: What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists advise and treat people who are limited in their life after an illness or a disability. With the help of active treatment methods, they help their patients to act freely under guidance. Mainly craft and design techniques, as well as simple coping strategies, are used. The aim is to compensate for disorders in motor, sensory, and perception.

The individual activities of occupational therapists are very varied. As a rule, the therapeutic measure begins with an occupational therapy diagnosis and creating a personalized treatment plan. The active part of the treatment follows. Depending on the limitation, occupational therapists practice, for example, necessary activities such as eating, washing, or writing. They help some patients to train their gross and fine motor skills, while other people have to practice orientation and concentration. Also, the handling of prostheses and medical aids is part of the occupational therapists’ responsibility area. They help their patients to organize their workplace or household. Together they plan everyday routines and practice organizational abilities. Often occupational therapists also include relatives and the environment of their patients in the therapy plan. Last but not least, they take care of the organization and administration of their activities autonomously.

Occupational therapists operate in various health care facilities with sick and disabled people of all ages. Possible employers are hospitals, clinics, health centers, homes, and other social institutions and occupational therapy practices. But they also find employment in educational institutions such as early intervention centers and special schools. The places of work vary. Occupational therapists spend much time in inpatient rooms and treatment rooms. Besides, they are also active in their patients’ homes and workplaces, outdoors, office, sports halls, and gyms. The areas of activity of occupational therapists are also very different. Typical fields of activity are neurology, trauma surgery/orthopedics.

Average salary: How much does an occupational therapist make in the United States?

An occupational therapist’s average wage is $82,600 ($44.50 per hour) per year in the United States. Wages typically start from $56,200 and go up to $125,750.

Source: U.S. Bureau of labor statistics

Occupational therapist responsibilities and requirements

The pathway to becoming an occupational therapist leads through training at a vocational school. The educational measure usually lasts three years and ends with the examination to become a state-certified occupational therapist. In addition to theory lessons, the training includes practical learning units in a specialist clinic, occupational therapy practice, or retirement home. As a rule, the entry requirement is an intermediate level of education. Good grades in biology work and art improve the prospects for an apprenticeship. However, the vocational school also selects applicants according to its criteria. It is not uncommon for them to request proof of health suitability.

During the occupational therapy training course, participants acquire theoretical background knowledge and practical skills. Once they have learned, they know everything about motor-functional, neurophysiological, neuropsychological, and psychosocial treatment methods and occupational therapeutic methods and adapting methods in occupational therapy. They are also familiar with health and hygiene, general and special disease, descriptive and functional anatomy, physiology, psychology, and pedagogy. The master craftsmanship and design techniques with various materials can use games, aids, splints, and technical media therapeutically.

In addition to their technical know-how, occupational therapists need special skills and social abilities. Empathy, willingness to make contact and communication skills are essential requirements for this profession. Occupational therapists work closely with people. In doing so, they become persons of trust who provide their patients with substantial assistance. To guide and motivate, they also need pedagogical skills as well as perseverance and mental stability. It is not uncommon for the treatments to be very lengthy. It can take a few weeks for the first results to be achieved. During this time, occupational therapists must always maintain a professional distance. The technical and creative techniques require skill and good hand-eye coordination. Creativity and artistic talent are just as helpful as physical fitness and an interest in sports.