Physical therapist checks the patient wrist by pressing the wrist bone in clinic room.

What Exactly Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Did you know that the number of people becoming occupational therapists has been growing at a rate of 14.3% per year? With an aging population, we have more people needing care and attention. But do you know how rewarding a career in the field can be?

If not, then let us explain. Read on as we discuss everything you need to know about becoming an occupational therapist.

What Is an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist works with people who struggle to do everyday activities. These can be people with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities. They aim to help recovery so that the person can overcome obstacles and do everyday activities unassisted.

Very often, an occupational therapist will be referred to as an OT. They can work with people from a number of backgrounds and age groups.

Duties and Responsibilities

Occupational therapy involves a number of different roles. Firstly, one of the most important jobs an OT will do is to perform an assessment. They will look at people’s medical history, conducts observations of their physical movements then evaluate their needs.

From this, they will speak to family members of the person, along with other medical staff and social workers. This will result in the formation of a treatment plan, prepared by the OT themself.

The plan will include assistance for anyone who is struggling to perform tasks. They could be as wide-ranging as helping people with autism engage with others, to increasing movement in the elderly. This will include exercise, both physical and mental, that the person must take part in.

They will also give recommendations to the lifestyle aspects of a patient. This could include informing their family about how to support and care for them. It may even involve suggesting changes to living conditions or property.

If the patient is using any specialist equipment to help them, the OT will also be advising them on how to use it. They will then map the progress of the patient, preparing reports and updates.

Necessary Skills

The most important trait for an OT is to have empathy and compassion. Cases that occupational therapists will work on are often long processes. They work with vulnerable people and need to treat them with respect and patience.

Communication skills are essential for an occupational therapist career. These must be both verbal and written. They must be able to communicate with patients, understand their needs, and be able to communicate the solutions back.

In terms of written communication, they have to do a lot of writing. They may be writing treatment plans and progress for the patient and other healthcare professionals. In addition, they may also need to write out documents for health insurance companies.

Problem-solving skills are also essential. No two cases will ever be the same and unique solutions must be created for each eventuality. This involves a high level of problem-solving skills.


The salary of an occupational therapist can vary quite a lot. On the lower, extreme side of the salary scale, you can expect to earn around $57,330 per annum. On the higher end of the scale, $122,670 can be a yearly salary.

As an occupational therapist, you can expect to work a range of times and hours. Occupational therapists will have to work on weekends, nights, and holidays.

Qualification Requirements

Occupational therapy is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. You will need a master’s degree accredited by them to be an OT. Some occupational therapists may even hold doctorates.

You can start with undergraduate education. To be admitted, you will need to have studied anatomy, liberal arts, biology, sociology, anthropology, or psychology.

Dependent on the state you practice in, you will need to take an exam to get your professional license. There should be a training program in place to guide you through this process. You will also need to pass an exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Starting an Occupational Therapist Business

Once you are qualified and have the experience, you can begin to think about starting a private practice. Start by choosing the business name, making sure no one else is using it for the same purposes. If you decide to use your own name in the business title, then you do not need to register for certain business licenses.

After this, you should begin to organize your business finances. Apply for a business credit card, so you can split personal and work-related money. These will be invaluable for business expenses.

After this, you will need to find premises and get the equipment. The premises you choose are very important, as having your practice in areas of high footfall will inevitably cost more in rent. Equipment could be very wide-ranging, from exercise equipment and gym items to the computers and desks needed in your office.

Once you have this, you will need to put your administrative systems in place. Decide if you will be taking on admin staff or a receptionist for your business, and start to put out advertisements for them. After this, you will need to select a robust case management system for documenting all progress with patients.

Starting Out

If you think becoming an occupational therapist may be for you, then discuss it with a careers advisor. No one becomes an occupational therapist for the money, though it can be a very well-paying job. If you want a career in which you care for people and make a difference, then it is surely for you.

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