How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Learning how to become an Occupational Therapist can be a worthwhile goal for those who desire to help others. As health conditions, illnesses and disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy continue to rise, the need for well-trained occupational therapists grows. Many senior citizens also need help with modifying their home, managing daily activities and implementing independent strategies that make life more bearable.

Role of an Occupational Therapist

An Occupational Therapist helps their patients develop, improve or recover the skills required to increase their quality of life. This involves observation, asking questions and evaluating a patient’s medical history to create a treatment program. Treatment may consist of exercises, activities and modifications to equipment or daily routines to help patients relieve pain or other suffering. Therapists physically demonstrate these exercises or alternative routines. For autistic or sensory-disabled children, therapy uses play, increased or decreased sensory input and other techniques to help children overcome or manage their neurological problems.

Skills and Qualities Required

The demand for therapists is quite high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the next 10 years, the field of occupational therapy will grow by 33 percent in order to handle the demand. That makes occupational therapy a worthwhile career for those who have the following skills and qualities:

Writing and Communication Skills: Occupational Therapists must be able to explain to patients exactly what they need them to do. They must communicate clearly with other professionals on the patient’s treatment team, make accurate observations, take legible notes and evaluate the situation. They also coordinate additional treatments into a total rehabilitation program.

Listening and Personal Interaction Skills: To help patients overcome or manage medical issues, occupational therapists must be good listeners. While teaching requires patient respect and trust, therapists must be able to hear what their patients are saying. This includes seeing things from the patient’s point of view.

Patience and Compassion: An occupational therapist works with different types of injuries. These disabilities can be mental, emotional, neurological or physical. Understanding and empathizing with a patient’s condition is essential. Working with autistic children and those with cerebral palsy or other disabilities takes a strong desire to help them improve their daily living skills and condition.

Education Required

Therapists must have attended an accredited occupational therapy program and have at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Educational pursuits need to be well thought out in advance since occupational therapy programs require a bachelor’s degree that includes coursework such as physiology and biology. Some programs also require previous experience in an occupational therapy environment, but that experience can be voluntary.

Licensing and Certification

Licensing is required in all states. A degree from an accredited occupational therapy program and certification is also required. To become certified, therapists must pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists exam (NBCOT) and take education classes to maintain that certification. Educational requirements and licensing fees differ by state, so it is a good idea to investigate how to become an Occupational Therapist before deciding if this occupation is a good fit.

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