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What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Generally, an occupational therapist prepares rehabilitative programs for disabled individuals to help them restore basic functions needed for daily life. If you're interested in helping people who have disabilities and want to learn more about what an occupational therapist does, keep reading.

Career Overview

Occupational therapists use various methods of treatment to help patients who have physical, mental, emotional, or developmental disabilities. In this field, you may work with individuals suffering from both short-term and long-term impairments with the goal of improving conditions to advance their quality of life. This may include helping an individual with tasks related to everyday life and to his or her occupation.

In your work, you will combine aspects from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, psychology, and sociology, to evaluate and implement comprehensive plans for patients. Occupational therapists may work within one sub-field, specializing in the rehabilitation of a particular demographic, such as the elderly, children, or those with mental or physical disabilities; some see clients with varying needs.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Licensure Required by all states
Similar Occupations Physical therapist, recreational therapist, speech-language pathologist
Key Skills Strong communication, interpersonal and writing skills; empathy and patience; flexibility

Aging

You may work with elderly patients who suffer from age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, hip replacements, low vision, and arthritis. In the case of a patient with Alzheimer's disease, you will evaluate the individual and make recommendations for adjustments to his or her lifestyle to increase function and safety. You may also educate family members on care and recommend home modifications, like bathroom safety aids. Your work with arthritis patients may focus on recommending assistive devices for ease of movement and comfort. You may also teach patients physical exercises to relieve pain and coping methods for improvement of psychological stress.

Children

You can assist children with disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism, through providing personalized plans to address behavioral, emotional, and mental issues. By working with parents and schools, you can increase levels of engagement, communication, and focus for children suffering from these types of disorders to improve overall quality of life and increase chances of success for the future.

Physical Disabilities

There are a broad range of physical disabilities, including lower back pain, spinal cord injury, and stroke, that may hinder an individual's ability to function in life and that you can help as an occupational therapist. You can evaluate physical abilities and set goals for improvement using therapeutic methods, like exercises and aids, or address mental and emotional issues following injury, such as low self-esteem and motivation. You may work with families of disabled patients to provide education for proper support and care. Evaluating and implementing changes in an individual's workplace for facilitation of reentry may also be part of your job duties.

Mental Disabilities

You may work with patients who suffer from substance abuse, mood disorders, or depression to enable them to better handle life on a day-to-day basis. Often, you may work in tandem with physicians and other health care providers to provide support for patients suffering from mental disabilities. Job duties may involve conducting evaluations, designing preventative measures, assessing relapse probability, and recording responses to medication. Working with families of patients, you may provide education and recommend involvement in treatment, such as group support meetings. You may help patients and loved ones understand realistic treatment goals and implement management methods to better handle routine matters, such as money management and household chores.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the employment of occupational therapists is expected to grow by 24% between 2016 and 2026, a rate much faster than the average growth predicted among all occupations. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by such specialists as $84,270 in May 2018.