Careers in Rehabilitation Therapy

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in rehabilitation therapy. Read on to learn more about career options along with key skills, work environment and continuing education information. Schools offering Rehabilitation Sciences degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Accidents, injuries, diseases and mental health issues can all require patients to go through rehabilitation therapy. As a therapist, you might help patients recover the mobility in their legs, stop stuttering or alleviate depression through crafts activities, depending on your specialization. Read on to learn about several career options in the field.

Important Facts About This Field

Work Environment Hospitals and other medical facilities
Related Occupations Athletic trainers and radiation therapists
Key Skills Communication, listening, critical thinking
Continuing Education Required to maintain licensure for some careers

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are trained to work with patients of all ages in a wide range of health-restoring capacities, from simple movement following an injury to the more complex stages of recovery from a disability, degenerative disorder, illness or surgery. Therapists work with doctors and other medical professionals in diagnosing and identifying problems, creating plans of treatment and carrying out the therapies designed to help restore the patient's health and quality of life. Treatments cover the entirety of patient recovery, to include areas such as strength, mobility, cognition, reasoning, perception and emotion.

A minimum of a doctoral degree from an accredited physical therapy program is required, along with the licensure that is governed by a state regulatory board. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that this career would experience a 28% employment increase from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average. The BLS also noted that the median annual income for this career was $87,930 in May 2018.

Physical Therapy Assistants

A physical therapist assistant works with the licensed physical therapist in a patient's rehabilitation process. Responsibilities include helping with exercises, medical equipment, record-keeping, instructions and other direct patient interaction. An associate's degree in an accredited physical therapist assistant program is required, and, for most states, licensing is also required.

The BLS predicted that this occupation would experience a 31% employment increase from 2016 through 2026, which is much faster than average. Physical therapist assistants earned a median annual salary of $58,040 in May 2018.

Physical Therapy Aides

Under the supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant, a physical therapist aide is responsible for seeing to the organization, preparation and cleanliness of a treatment area. Aides are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent and are usually trained on the job. While they can assist patients in moving to or from treatment areas, they are not permitted to perform the clinical tasks normally performed by a physical therapist assistant.

The BLS notes that aides usually only need a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training. These professionals can expect a very fast 29% employment increase over the 2016-2026 decade. The BLS reported they earned a median annual income of $26,240 in May 2018.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists help patients return to daily living and working routines following disabling health conditions. Treatments may be directed at a temporary illness or a permanent loss and can range from simple personal and household routines to more complex tasks and issues. An occupational therapist works with patients in areas such as helping to restore cognitive, perceptual and reasoning skills; the therapist also assists with adaptive equipment and employment readjustment.

A minimum of a master's degree in an accredited occupational therapy program is required, along with licensure governed by a state regulatory board. These therapists can expect a 24% job growth from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average, according to the BLS. Their median annual income in May 2018 was $84,270.

Speech-Language Therapy

Speech-language therapists treat people with disorders relating to sound, speech or swallowing. Problems may include stuttering, voice or language disorders, developmental issues, cleft palate, hearing loss, mental or emotional difficulties, injury, stroke or surgery. The therapist analyzes, diagnoses and plans treatments, which may include different kinds of equipment, therapies or languages to treat or rehabilitate the patient's speech or language problem. Additional responsibilities include research, record-keeping and consultations with family members and other professionals.

A minimum of a master's degree in an accredited speech pathology program is required in most states. The accrediting body for these programs is The Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Licensure is also governed by each state regulatory board. The BLS notes that speech-language pathologists could expect an 18% employment increase from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average. They earned a median income of $77,510 in May 2018.

Recreational Therapy

Recreational therapists provide various kinds of rehabilitation treatment to patients recovering from accidents, illnesses or disabilities. Treatment may take the form of games, sports, dance, crafts, music or various outings. Through these techniques, therapists work with patients who are trying to recover from or overcome difficulties in areas such as motor functioning, reasoning ability, confidence-building, stress, depression, addiction, anxiety or socialization. Working with other professionals, the therapist assists the patient in returning to a life of better health, greater independence and improved social interaction.

For recreational therapy employment, a bachelor's degree from an accredited program and certification by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation is usually required, and some states regulate the profession through licensure or registration. Job growth for this profession is expected to be at 7%, which is as fast as average, according to the BLS. Recreational therapists earned a median annual income of $47,860 as of May 2018.

Respiratory Therapy

A respiratory therapist works with patients of all ages with breathing or other cardiopulmonary problems. Under the direction of a physician, the respiratory therapist helps to evaluate, treat and rehabilitate patients suffering from or trying to recover from disorders such as asthma, emphysema, stroke, heart ailments, shock, lung disease, smoking addiction or sleep apnea. Patients who suffer suffocation or near-drowning may also seek treatment from a respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapy is complex, and while the therapists are always in consultation with doctors and other healthcare professionals, they must be prepared to use informed independent judgment, particularly with patients on life support equipment and in intensive-care units.

For an entry-level position as a respiratory therapist, an associate's degree from an accredited program is required, but a limited number of such programs are available. Bachelor's degrees in advanced levels of the profession are typically preferred. Licensing is required in all states except Alaska, and most employers expect cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Respiratory therapy-related credentials are governed by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

The BLS estimates much-faster-than-average 23% job growth for respiratory therapists from 2016 through 2026. This occupation's median income was $60,280 in May 2018.

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