What is an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist is a medical professional who works with patients with mentally, physically, or developmentally disabling conditions to help them develop, recover, or maintain the necessary skills for daily living and working.

Occupational therapists focus on improving patients’ abilities to perform specific daily activities, from buttoning a shirt and working at the computer to organizing household items. Occupational therapists develop treatment plans that emphasize the adaptation, correction, and introduction of new movements, enabling the patient to improve their mobility to perform these everyday functions.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

If you’re wondering what occupational therapists do, OTs have a wide range of duties, from evaluating patients and developing treatment plans to assisting in and tracking their treatment progress. 

Some of the primary responsibilities of occupational therapists include:

  • Evaluating patients’ physical, cognitive, and communication abilities
  • Developing personalized treatment strategies for each patient
  • Supporting patients in participating in daily tasks
  • Monitoring patient advancement in treatment plans
  • Documenting and maintaining therapy session records

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Those wishing to become an occupational therapist must first receive a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of study. Additionally, in every state except Colorado, occupational therapists must first obtain a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.

Occupational therapist certification requirements vary by state. However, all states require occupational therapists to pass an exam from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Occupational Therapist vs. Physical Therapist: What’s the Difference?

While occupational therapists and physical therapists often work alongside one another, the goals of their jobs are not quite the same. The biggest difference between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist is that OTs focus on improving and maintaining a patient’s ability to perform daily life activities, whereas physical therapists aim to improve the patient’s ability to move their body. 

What is an Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA)?

While occupational therapists evaluate and develop patient treatment plans, occupational therapy assistants work with the patients to carry out those plans. Occupational therapy assistants may also track patients’ progress for the OT, and they may make necessary adjustments to help improve the plan.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Assistant do?

Occupational therapist assistants work alongside occupational therapists to assist with the treatment of patients. Once a treatment plan has been developed by the occupational therapist, an occupational therapist assistant will guide the patient through the prescribed exercises and track their progress.

Some of the primary responsibilities of occupational therapist assistants include:

  • Implementing treatment plans provided by occupational therapists for patients
  • Supporting patients in enhancing their range of motion in new activities
  • Enhancing patient engagement in everyday tasks
  • Monitoring patient advancements
  • Documenting patient sessions

How to Become an Occupational Therapist Assistant

Occupational therapist assistant requirements include acquiring an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Certified occupational therapist assistants also must take and pass a certification exam.

Other licensure requirements for occupational therapist assistants differ depending on the state in which the COTA will work. It is important to check the local requirements to ensure that all certifications and licenses are in order.

If you are interested in becoming an occupational therapist or an occupational therapist assistant, visit our job pages to find opportunities in your area.

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