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Rehabilitation Therapist Education and Career Requirements

Rehabilitation therapists usually hold a master's degree in occupational therapy or a doctoral degree in physical therapy. Continue reading to learn about job duties and career prospects for people in this career field.

What You Need to Know

Rehabilitation therapist is not a common job title. However, two careers that use rehabilitation therapy include occupational therapists and physical therapists. Both fields of study require completing graduate-level education as well as acquiring state licensure.

Degrees Master of Occupational Therapy or Doctor of Physical Therapy
Classes Neurobiology, assistive technology, therapeutic exercises and modalities, gross anatomy, kinesiology, prosthetics or orthotics, patient evaluation
Licensing/Certification All states require licensure for physical and occupational therapists; board certification available for physical therapists; several voluntary certifications available to occupational therapists

What Does a Rehabilitation Therapist Do?

Rehabilitation therapists help patients recover from injuries, minimize muscular defects, cope with handicaps or therapeutically end a learned behavior. You can provide rehabilitation therapy as an occupational therapist in a home or workplace setting in which you would work with patients afflicted with a physical or mental handicap that limits their mobility and independence.

Physical therapists are also health-care professionals involved in the rehabilitation process. In this career, you'll implement treatment modalities designed to help patients recovering from accidents, injuries or disease regain their strength and range of motion.

What Educational Programs Will I Need to Complete?

A master's degree is the minimum requirement for occupational therapists. Entry into one of these programs often requires a bachelor's degree that meets prerequisite course requirements in courses such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Lab sciences
  • Gerontology
  • Neuroscience
  • Practice management

The curriculum also addresses special techniques for treating children and older adults and requires you to complete a series of supervised full- and part-time field experiences with patients who have mental health issues or physical disabilities.

Physical therapists must have a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). Admission to one of these 3-year programs requires a bachelor's degree that meets prerequisite course requirements in the physical and biological sciences in addition to proof of related work, volunteer or observational experience. Curriculum typically consists of extensive clinical experiences, directed research and coursework in topics like:

  • Differential diagnoses
  • Exercise physiology
  • Motion analysis
  • Neurophysiology

What Are the Licensing Requirements?

To work as an occupational therapist, you'll need to earn state licensure. Typical requirements include passing scores on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's (NBCOT) registration exam and the completion of an accredited master's degree program.

Physical therapists must also be licensed. This process entails passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. In some cases, you may also need to take a state-administered jurisprudence exam.

What Do the Career Prospects Look Like?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a much faster than average job growth was projected for both types of therapists through the 2016-2026 decade. Occupational therapists could see employment opportunities increase by 24%, while physical therapists could see a 28% job growth. These healthy employment outlooks were the result of a growing demand for therapeutic services among patients recovering from surgery or coping with illness, the baby boomer population and trauma victims.

As of May 2014, occupational therapists earned an average salary of $84,640 per year, while physical therapists earned $88,080 a year on average, according to the BLS.