How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist helps clients who are ill, disabled, or elderly adapt to the changes in their life. They might teach them to use new furniture at home or offer them emotional support.

Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who help people adjust to changes in their life. Their clients may be ill, disabled, or ageing. Their role is varied; they will offer mental, physical, and practical support depending on the client’s needs. They may specialise in one condition or work with clients with a range of conditions. 

The occupational therapist job description includes: 

  • Helping patients who have had a life-changing accident or surgery adjust to their new situation.
  • Emotionally supporting people with mental health conditions.
  • Working in the office or home of a client to suggest furniture changes to help with their condition.
  • Assisting people with learning and physical disabilities; helping them become more independent. 
  • Offering advice and support to families and carers. 
  • Writing up reports of each client, including their progress, steps taken, and targets. 

Most candidates for this career will have a degree in occupational therapy. To qualify for this, they should have relevant secondary qualifications – generally, biology is needed. However, if they have a relevant healthcare degree, they may be able to do a postgraduate conversion course. Occupational therapist apprenticeships are also a possibility in some countries.

It is hugely beneficial for candidates to obtain relevant work experience. This is both to strengthen their application, and to verify that a career in occupational therapy – which can be an emotionally taxing role – is right for them. Volunteering in health or social care is a viable option, or a candidate could become an occupational therapy support worker as an initial job.

Occupational therapists should have a good understanding of psychology and healthcare (this will be covered in a degree or postgraduate course). They should also have proficient counselling skills and be empathetic, great at listening, and understanding of their client’s needs. These qualities are the backbone of being an occupational therapist.

Candidates should be prepared for and able to deal with emotionally taxing situations. While occupational therapists do deal with positive cases and see marked progress in some individuals after difficult experiences, they also work with people whose lives will never be the same again, or even people needing palliative care. 

They should be able to work with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, as well as social workers. However, occupational therapists will often be working alone and should be independent and able to use their initiative to decide on the best thing to do for a client.

Occupational therapists are often mobile; they may work at client’s houses or workplaces. They could also be based in a hospital or GP surgery, or a variety of other healthcare settings. Their work is varied, and they may be caring for people with different conditions each day. No two days will be the same, which is fantastic for candidates who enjoy variety, but not ideal for those who need a structured routine. Occupational therapists often work shifts, which can include weekends.

Many occupational therapists are content with the challenges and job satisfaction of their career. However, progression opportunities are available; candidates could become a senior clinician or work in general health management. 

What degree is most commonly held by an Occupational Therapist ?

  • Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
  • Bachelor of Health Sciences
  • Master of Occupational Health Sciences
  • Bachelor of Psychology
  • Bachelor of Occupational Biopsychology

Career Transportability across Countries

Transportability: Medium
There are increasing opportunities for candidates to find work abroad. Some programmes attempt to bring occupational therapy to countries where it is not yet widespread, and recruit experienced professionals to help with this. Volunteering abroad is another viable option.

What is the Salary of an Occupational Therapist ?

Experience Average salary | year
Occupational Therapist 1-3 yrs $76,000 £41,600 $42,849
Locum Occupational Therapist 3-5 yrs $88,233 £48,296 $49,747
Manager of Physiotherapy OT and Rehab 5-10 yrs $98,545 £53,944 $53,000

What skills are needed to become an Occupational Therapist ?

  • Occupational Therapy
  • Healthcare
  • Rehabilitation
  • Microsoft Office
  • Mental Health
  • Customer Service
  • Teamwork
  • Time Management
  • Hospitals
  • Leadership
  • Treatment
  • Research
  • Microsoft Word
  • Pediatrics
  • Clinical Research
  • Public Speaking
  • Communication
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Management
  • Training
  • Teaching
  • Sensory Integration
  • PowerPoint

Occupational Therapist Courses

Occupational therapists should have a range of knowledge from the medical and social care fields. This means that candidates will benefit by taking some relevant courses to expand their knowledge; extra courses will also help their application stand out. Professionals who are planning on working abroad may be particularly interested in occupational health in developing countries.

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