What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do - featured image

Find your perfect college degree

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

One of the most popular healthcare professions is occupational therapy. Because of the compassionate nature of this job, it’s not a surprise to hear so many people drawn to this career.

Occupational therapists and those contemplating joining the workforce can expect increased job growth and generous compensation in the coming years. The employment rate for occupational therapists will increase by 12% between 2022 and 2032, according to statistics, leading to about 9,600 jobs each year over the decade. 

Additional Resources:

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is a type of allied health profession that involves the therapeutic use of assessment to recover, develop, and maintain the activities or occupations of people, groups, and communities. 

Occupational therapists focus on the things people need and want to do in their daily lives. Occupational therapy interventions, on the other hand, use daily life activities (occupations) to promote well-being, health, and the people’s ability to join in critical events in their lives.

This may include any activity that a patient wishes to accomplish, including taking care of themselves and their families, volunteering, working, and going to school, among others. 

Occupational therapists are self-directed and educated and use their judgment to plan and execute occupational therapy interventions, complete assessments, and assess outcomes of service. To work as one, you must complete educational programs in occupational therapy and must meet the regulatory standard of each country for entry-to-practice and continuing competency. 

Roles/Responsibilities of Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists work with patients by using therapeutic approaches to regular activities. This means they are responsible for helping their patients improve, develop, or recover from their conditions or injuries. They also make sure that the skills needed by their patients to do daily routines are maintained.

In general, occupational therapists have many tasks and duties related to patient care. Depending on where they specifically work, the responsibilities of occupational therapists usually include:

The daily activities that OTs take part in will likely be influenced by the environment they’re working in. Many occupational therapists work in private practice or hospital settings.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for them to work in other environments, too. For instance, some OTs work in educational settings, focusing on assisting in child development. Some work with older people and help minimize the struggles that go with aging. Those who are business-minded can even operate and manage their own private OT practice.

Where is occupational therapy provided, and who should get it?

OTs can tremendously assist people in improving their independence, which eventually results in helping them with their overall quality of life. Other major advantages of occupational therapy include:

People of all abilities and age groups can take advantage of occupational therapy. OT services are provided, including rehabilitation centers, clinics, hospitals, special schools, home care programs, and industry and private enterprises. OTs and OT assistants can also provide their services in private practice or may be consultants or educators.

Occupational therapy is both for adults and children who have trouble with their daily routines. Some of the reasons why people get occupational therapy include problems with their movement, thinking skills, balance, fine motor skills, or coordination.

Anybody with these health issues can benefit from occupational therapy: 

Some of the circumstances where the need for a licensed occupational therapy might come in handy include:

In an occupational therapy appointment, the OT initially evaluates the person’s goals and abilities. How OTs will do this will largely depend on the patient and their needs. However, the OT will normally start by going over the patient’s medical history and asking some relevant questions about what they usually do on a regular basis. The OT will then ask to watch the patient carry out some specific tasks.

The occupational therapist might also assess the patient’s school, home, or workplace to check whether they can find any ways to improve them. For example, the OT might suggest installing a handrail for patients having a hard time moving around. Or they may advise labeling kitchen cabinets for older patients suffering from memory loss. 

After the OT has an idea of the patient’s goals and circumstances, the information gathered is then used to come up with a treatment plan. OTs might recommend special equipment like wheelchairs or eating aids and assist patients in using them. They will also evaluate the patient’s progress after weeks or months.

How can children benefit from Occupational Therapy? 

Children can take advantage of occupational therapy if they have gone through or experienced any of the following conditions:

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

Occupational Therapy VS. Physical Therapy - Image

Occupation and physical therapy both aim to boost the patient’s independence. The main difference, though, is that occupational therapies help patients with their regular daily routines, while physical therapy is more focused on helping them move easily and manage their pain. 

Occupational therapy helps patients develop the skills they need to adapt to changes in their abilities. This will involve using tools like reach extenders, walkers, or pencil grips. The main goal of OT is to make patients more independent. 

Physical therapy, on the other hand, is more focused on working on the patient’s motor skills. You might come across these types of therapists after you have an illness or an injury that affects your movements.

Physical therapists focus on hands-on techniques and exercises that help improve patient mobility and minimize pain. There are also cases where a PT can help patients delay or avoid treatments like surgeries or medications. 

Choosing Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy 

Choosing between occupational and physical therapy can be tricky. But you can begin by completely understanding the problem area so you can adopt the right treatment approach. While you can find similarities between occupational therapy and physical therapy, the treatment approach is where its differences lie. 

If you choose physical therapy, you will have help with the pain, endurance, strength, gross motor skills, and joint range of motion. In occupational therapy, on the other hand, the help you get will benefit you in so many ways, including:

Occupational Therapy: Required Education and Certifications

Just like any health profession, occupational therapy needs extensive training and education to become a licensed occupational therapist. Many OTs join the workforce with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Others opt to pursue a doctorate to further advance in the field.

On top of earning a master’s degree program, graduates must also take and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination. Although general requirements vary by location, all states need OTs to pass the NBCOT exam to obtain state licensure and earn the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). 

Licensed occupational therapists who want to practice their advanced skills in a specific area, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers different specialty and board certification in areas like:

An OT’s salary will depend on many factors, such as education, experience, and job location.

Skills Required to Become a Successful Occupational Therapist

Skills Required to Become a Successful Occupational Therapist - Image

Occupational therapists come from almost all backgrounds. However, there are some major qualities and skills that OTs need for them to serve the field well. For example, occupational therapists must have a strong sense of empathy and compassion so that as they help their patients improve their daily lives, they can do this with their patient’s best interests in mind. 

A lot of occupational therapists, in fact, are drawn to this career out of their desire to make a significant difference during a tough time in their patient’s lives. Aside from being people-oriented, other skills that OTs need to have to become successful in the field include:

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do - fact

Usual Career Paths for Licensed Occupational Therapists

The career path of a licensed occupational therapist will depend on the type of patients they want to work with.

For instance, if you love working with pediatric patients, you can start in a pediatric hospital as an OT assistant and learn the ropes there. You will then slowly transition into working within a specific facility or school to work with children.

Occupational therapy specialties will generally be based on the patients’ ages, although this can also depend on the type of therapy a patient needs. Some occupational therapists prefer to work with people with autism, while some opt to specialize in dealing with patients who lost their limbs because of military service.

While there are some OTs that keep a traditional 40-hour workweek, the work schedule of an occupational therapist is quite similar to that of other healthcare workers in that they may work during weekends or overnight.

Depending on the types of patients they are working with or where they are employed, some occupational therapists work longer shifts, normally 12-48 hours, especially in long-term care facilities or in a hospital setting.

What are Occupational Therapy Assistants? 

Occupational therapy assistants, support workers, or technicians provide occupational therapy services under the supervision and guidance of a licensed occupational therapist. These assistants help implement occupational therapy interventions like completing administrative tasks, practicing the use of assistive technology, or assisting with other activities.

In some countries, OT assistants are usually graduates of a specialized education program designed for OT technicians and are required to earn a certification or qualification to work in occupational therapy.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.