Sometimes, an injury, disease, or other condition can make participating in daily activities difficult—an arm injury that makes getting dressed painful; arthritis that interferes with driving or climbing stairs; autism that hinders a child from interacting effectively with classmates; or a traumatic brain injury that causes difficulties with memory and organizational skills. These are all situations in which an occupational therapist can help you live life to the fullest. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help patients develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals. Others work in schools, nursing homes, and home health services. They treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities such as self-care skills, education, work, or social interaction.
An occupational therapist’s duties may include:
- Reviewing patients’ medical history and observing them doing tasks.
- Assessing a patient’s condition and needs.
- Developing a treatment plan with specific goals and the activities that will be used to achieve them.
- Helping those with disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed.
- Demonstrating exercises to help relieve pain from chronic conditions or improve mobility.
- Evaluating a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identifying potential improvements, such as ergonomic adjustments to a work station.
- Educating a patient or patient’s family about how to accommodate and care for the patient.
- Recommending special equipment, such as a wheelchair, and instructing patients on its use.
- Assessing and recording patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations for reporting to physicians and other health care providers or for billing purposes.
According to BLS, employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 16% by 2029, and 32% for assistants, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.
To become an occupational therapist, all states require completion of an occupational therapy degree program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree (associate’s degree or higher for an occupational therapy assistant), followed by 16 or 24 weeks of clinical experience, passing a national exam, and finally, applying for state licensure.
The California Board of Occupational Therapy licenses and regulates occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. You can verify a practitioner’s license and also find more consumer information—such as how to file a complaint—on the Board’s website at http://www.bot.ca.gov.