Occupational Therapists picture    Occupational Therapists image

Occupational therapists (OTs) are responsible for helping patients improve their ability to function to their highest possible degree of independence. The OT's general mission is to help people be able to perform day-to-day tasks and/or sustain themselves. This type of therapist typically works with individuals who suffer from some type of physically, mentally, developmentally, or emotionally disabling condition. They work closely with their patients to develop, recover, or maintain daily living and work skills so that the patient can strive to lead an independent, productive, and satisfying life. Depending on the client, the therapist may try to improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities or to compensate for permanent loss of function.

The areas encompassed by occupational therapists are so far-reaching that they can find themselves working with a wide range of clients of varying limitations who need to be cared for in any number of settings. Clients with coordination problems might be assigned exercises to improve hand-eye coordination whereas those with short-term memory loss might be taught to make lists to aid recollection skills. Patients with permanent disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy often require instruction in the use of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, orthoses, eating aids, and dressing aids. Some occupational therapists deal with clients who are not fully able to function in a particular work environment. These therapists may need to collaborate with both the client and employer to modify the work environment so that the client can successfully function.


Working with the patient and his/her physician, the occupational therapist decides on a therapy plan which takes into account the patient's specific type of impairment, injury, or deficiency. The plan is constructed in such a way that the rehabilitation goals are realistic and the patient's psychological needs are adequately addressed. The therapist then uses any of a wide variety of tools and methods in conducting the treatment. Physical exercises may be used to increase strength and dexterity, while computer programs are often used to help clients improve decision-making, abstract-reasoning, memory, sequencing, and/or coordination. Therapists often design or build special equipment for their clients and then teach the client how to use the equipment. As an important part of the therapy, the therapist needs to regularly assess and record the client�s activities and progress. Accurate records are essential not only for evaluating the client, but also for billing and for reporting to physicians and other health care providers.

A partial list of the things an occupation therapist is required to do as part of the job might include the following:

  • Choose activities that best help individuals learn life-management skills within the limits of their specific capabilities
  • Consult with other rehabilitation and therapeutic experts
  • Recommend changes in patients' work or living environments as needed
  • Help patients re-learn daily living routines
  • Design special equipment (e.g., feeding devices, clothing adaptations, or splints)
  • Direct activities to help patients with balance and coordination problems
  • Supervise coordination exercises
  • Teach manual skills to restore physical mobility
  • Evaluate patients' progress
  • Complete and maintain necessary records
  • Prepare reports that detail progress

Job Characteristics

Most occupational therapists, including those who work in hospitals and other health care settings, normally work a standard 40-hour week. The environment in these settings is typically pleasant, with well-lit, heated, and clean rooms. In large rehabilitation centers, therapists sometimes work in large rooms which tend to be noisy due to the presence of machines, tools, and other noise-generating devices. Therapists who provide home health care tend to spend a significant amount of time driving from one appointment to another. In general, the job can be tiring, due to the need for therapists to be on their feet a good deal of the time. Therapists can also be susceptible to back strain caused by lifting and moving of both equipment and clients.

In a profession where interaction with people is a daily occurrence, it is not surprising that occupational therapists need strong interpersonal skills. Patience is an important character trait required for this occupation because many clients improve very slowly. Social perceptiveness, the awareness of others' reactions and an understanding of why they react as they do, is an invaluable skill for an occupational therapist to possess. Other important character abilities include ingenuity, imagination, and an ability to solve problems. Therapists who work in home health care services also need to be adaptable to a variety of work settings.

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment of occupational therapists is expected to grow much faster than the average profession over the next decade. The demand for occupational therapists will be driven largely by an increasing elderly population and by the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require therapy services. Also, modern technology will enable more patients with critical problems to survive and many of these patients will need extensive therapy.

Job prospects for licensed occupational therapists are expected to be robust in mostly all settings. Those who work in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic venues can look forward to particularly abundant work due to the fact that the elderly receive most of their treatment in these settings. Hospitals will continue to employ a large number of occupational therapists to provide services to inpatients. Schools will employ an increasing amount of occupational therapists to treat an expanding school-age population, to deal with an increase in services for disabled students, and to address a growing prevalence of sensory disorders in children. Therapists with specialized knowledge in a particular area of treatment (e.g., driver rehabilitation and fall-prevention training for the elderly) can also anticipate an enhancement in job opportunities.

Occupational Therapy Schools, Certification, and Licensing

The minimum educational requirement for entry into the field of occupational therapy is a master's degree. There are many colleges and universities which offer occupational therapy programs. In addition to straight master's degree programs, these include some which offer a combined bachelor�s and master�s degree and others which offer an entry-level doctoral degree. Typical programs include coursework in the physical, biological, and behavioral sciences and courses which focus on the application of occupational therapy theory and skills. Most of these programs also include six months of supervised fieldwork.

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Requirements for obtaining a license include graduation from an accredited educational program and six months of supervised fieldwork. Accreditation can come from the American Occupational Therapy Association or the World Federation of Occupational Therapy. Candidates are also required to take and pass a national certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Those who pass the exam are awarded the title "Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR)". Some states impose additional requirements for therapists who work in certain specialized work settings, including schools and early intervention programs. These requirements may include additional classwork and/or certification in education or early intervention. Many states require periodic renewal of licenses and conditions for renewal usually include the accrual of continuing education credits.


Major Employers

The largest employers of occupational therapists are hospitals. Other major employers include offices of physicians or other health care professionals, nursing care facilities, school systems, rehabilitation centers, public and private educational services, home health care services, outpatient care centers, government agencies, and community care facilities for the elderly. A relatively small percentage of occupational therapists are self-employed. These therapists typically treat clients referred by other health professionals and/or provided contract or consulting services to health care agencies.

Schools for Occupational Therapists are listed in the column to the left.

Occupational Therapists Skills

Below are the skills needed to be occupational therapists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Service Orientation4.123.88
Active Listening44
Critical Thinking44.12
Judgment and Decision Making43.62

Occupational Therapists Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be occupational therapists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Problem Sensitivity4.254
Deductive Reasoning44
Inductive Reasoning44
Oral Comprehension44
Oral Expression44

Occupational Therapists Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be occupational therapists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Therapy and Counseling4.625.76
Medicine and Dentistry4.294.05
Education and Training4.145
English Language4.14.48

Occupational Therapists Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being occupational therapists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.765.38
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.574.9
Documenting/Recording Information4.524.19
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.484.71
Getting Information4.434.57

Occupational Therapists Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being occupational therapists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Concern for Others4.67
Self Control4.57

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Occupational Therapists

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Occupational Therapists jobs , as of 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim3,890$97,950
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington2,780$88,880
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach2,130$77,510
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land1,880$89,340
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell1,770$87,350
San Diego-Carlsbad1,710$94,000

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to occupational therapists

Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 24.3 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Occupational Therapists.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.