How to Become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational Therapist Careers & Degrees

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An occupational therapist (also known as an OT) works with clients to help them gain skills that allow them to live better lives.

If you are a good communicator, have good empathy, and would like a job where you work closely with people then you might like to become an occupational therapist.

An occupational therapists clients will often be suffering from a condition that stops them from living a normal life.

They could be suffering from a physical, mental, or emotional disturbance.

An OT works with a client to analyze their client’s needs and help them to gain new skills to help them live better lives, these could be anything from learning to cook, to using a computer, to meeting new people.

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Education Requirements to Become an Occupational Therapist

To become an occupational therapist, you’ll need to first complete an undergraduate degree.

A four year bachelors degree in psychology, sociology, biology, anthropology, or the liberal arts is ideal.

After this you will have to attend graduate school and complete an accredited program in occupational therapy.

A masters degree is the minimum requirement for licensure in all 50 states.

All programs consist of at least 24 weeks of supervised professional practice, as is the minimum for accreditation.

Upon graduation, you’ll need to take exams and apply for licensure within your state.

You can find out more about this process from the American Occupation Therapy Association.

Occupational Therapist Job Description

As stated above, an occupational therapist works with clients to help them lead better lives.

They help them to learn new skills, so as any illness or disability they may be suffering from will not hinder them.

An occupational therapist could help a client with something such as building strength or dexterity.

For instance, they might help them to do their job at work differently after an accident.

They could also help a client with life skills such as cooking, or money management.

For example, they could help a client with help making a weekly budget.

Some occupational therapists help injured workers return to the workforce.

Others help mentally ill patients deal with the problems of daily life, while some will help the elderly or work in schools.

When you become an occupational therapist, your job will start with an initial meeting with a client.

You will analyze their current situation, where areas could be improved, as well as what the client would like to achieve.

The next step is to create an action plan.

This could involve steps to help a client learn new skills or to try different things.

This will later be reviewed, and the outcome measured.

Here are some of the tasks of an occupational therapist:

  • Scheduling a meeting with a client
  • Holding an initial therapy sessions
  • Devising an action plan and explaining it to the client
  • Follow up sessions and outcome measurement
  • Communicating with case workers and family members

Occupational Therapist Salary and Career Path

Most occupational therapists work in hospitals, some work in clinics or consulting firms, others are employed by schools or social welfare agencies.

When you graduate and gain your licensure, you’ll be able to start work as an occupational therapist right away.

Some occupational therapists will work with specific populations.

They may specialize with the elderly, school children, or injured workers for example.

Later in their career, some may become supervisors, overseeing the work of other OT’s and aides.

Some go on to other jobs within health, while some become teachers.

The median wage for an occupational therapist is $66,000 a year.

The top 10% of earners make over $98,000 a year.

There is much growth in this sector currently, and strong employment opportunities for the future.

With an aging population, the best opportunities will go to those with an interest in working with the elderly.

Some similar jobs to that of occupational therapist include:

  • Physical therapist
  • Registered nurse
  • Social worker
  • Speech pathologist
  • Psychologist
  • Counselor
  • Recreational therapist

If you enjoy working closely with people and would enjoy making a difference to your client’s lives then you might like to become an occupational therapist.

A good salary and employment prospects makes this a good choice of career.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$86,210
$56K
$69K
$86K
$101K
$121K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$85,760
Alaska$90,340
Arizona$95,180
Arkansas$85,920
California$98,450
Colorado$90,990
Connecticut$92,770
Delaware$83,210
District of Columbia$94,430
Florida$83,550
Georgia$85,310
Hawaii$87,080
Idaho$83,980
Illinois$84,700
Indiana$81,440
Iowa$82,380
Kansas$81,830
Kentucky$78,430
Louisiana$87,410
Maine$74,400
Maryland$87,670
Massachusetts$85,760
Michigan$78,010
Minnesota$76,220
Mississippi$82,480
Missouri$79,570
Montana$76,670
Nebraska$77,450
Nevada$105,450
New Hampshire$81,140
New Jersey$96,820
New Mexico$84,150
New York$89,920
North Carolina$82,480
North Dakota$70,350
Ohio$84,520
Oklahoma$85,860
Oregon$92,730
Pennsylvania$83,120
Rhode Island$88,390
South Carolina$75,700
South Dakota$72,370
Tennessee$84,480
Texas$85,090
Utah$83,670
Vermont$76,580
Virginia$91,970
Washington$84,150
West Virginia$81,840
Wisconsin$76,270
Wyoming$83,890
Puerto Rico$39,130

The top earning state in the field is Nevada, where the average salary is $105,450.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Nevada - $105,450
California - $98,450
New Jersey - $96,820
Arizona - $95,180
District of Columbia - $94,430
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Occupational Therapists, OCC Code 29-1122, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists help injured, ill or disabled patients recover through the use of everyday activities.

Before developing a treatment plan, occupational therapists start by reviewing the patients’ medical history and observing the patients while they perform everyday activities.

Occupational therapists also have to document the patient’s progress and to adjust the treatment plan, if necessary.

They also report the patient’s progress to physicians and other medical professionals.

Occupational therapists also have the task of informing the patients and their families about care and treatment plans.

Some occupational therapists specialize in working with a specific age group: for example some work with children while others specialize in working with the elderly.

As an occupational therapist, you will need a variety of skills: compassion, adaptability, patience and good interpersonal and communication skills.

QuestionHow much does an occupational therapist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for occupational therapists was $84,270 in May 2018.

Salaries vary depending on the industry where the therapist is employed.

For example, those who work for elementary or secondary schools earned a median wage of $73,980 per year, while those who work for nursing care facilities earned a median wage of $90,570 a year, as of May 2018.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy from an accredited school and some may need a doctorate degree.

In order to be able to practice as an occupational therapist, you will also need a state license.

A master’s degree program in occupational therapy can cost you anywhere between $15,000 and $70,000, depending on the school you choose.

Before enrolling at a graduate program you will also need a bachelor’s degree, which requires around 4 years of coursework and can cost you anywhere between less than $10,000 a year and more than $30,000.

QuestionWhat is the demand for occupational therapists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for occupational therapists is expected to grow 18 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Occupational therapists will be needed to be part of interdisciplinary teams that treat patients with various illnesses and disabilities.

They will also be needed to assist the elderly and help them maintain their independence and to treat patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

QuestionHow long does it take to become an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy and in some cases, they may also need a doctorate degree.

A master’s degree program can be completed in 2-3 years while doctoral programs take between 3 and 4 years.

In order to be admitted to a graduate program in occupational therapy, you will typically need a bachelor’s degree, which can be obtained in around 4 years.

Some schools also offer dual programs in which the student earns both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree; these programs typically last around 5 years.

At least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork are required as part of the graduate programs.

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