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Occupational Therapy: Helping People Live Their Lives

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, November 21, 2013

Want to help people? Interested in biology and psychology? There are a lot of paths open to you, but here's an especially promising one: occupational therapy.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a branch of health-based service that involves providing aid and rehabilitation to people with injuries or disabilities so that those individuals can function in their lives without difficulty. Occupational therapy is different from physical therapy, because physical therapy is more focused on purely physical, movement-based issues, while occupational therapy has a broader emphasis on providing for unhindered life.

In general, occupational therapy is oriented around the bottom-line goal of functionality—of being able to perform the tasks that most individuals can perform on a regular basis with as little difficulty as possible. These include tasks such as using a computer, cooking and eating food, dressing, and so on.

Who is Treated Through Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is used to treat both individuals who have suffered some sort of problem or injury and those who were born with permanent disabilities. Such disabilities might be of a more directly physical nature or they might be cognitive.

For example, occupational therapy would be used to help individuals suffering from disorders such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Occupational therapists would not only provide some amount of education and training to these individuals so that they might be able to overcome their own disabilities, but they might also develop devices or tools which might make their patients' lives easier. Occupational therapy also involves helping individuals with disorders such as autism or ADHD to adapt to those conditions and come to function in their everyday lives without excessive difficulty.

An individual who studies occupational therapy may do so with an eye toward specializing in a particular section of the populace in terms of his or her intended patients. For example, someone who studies occupational therapy may what to work exclusively with children, while other students of occupational therapy schools may intend to work with the elderly.

Occupational Therapy Schools

Most occupational therapy schools exist at the graduate level of education, as occupational therapy continuing education is necessary to become a fully accredited occupational therapist.

For those interested in pursuing occupational therapy at an undergraduate level, there are two options: to pursue a joint bachelor's/master's program that will take you all the way to a full master's degree in occupational therapy or to go look into occupational therapy schools that award occupational therapy assistant degrees. Occupational therapy assistants are not full occupational therapists and are not allowed to perform the full spectrum of duties assigned to occupational therapists, but it is a good entry-level path into occupational therapy.

High-school or undergraduate students interested in occupational therapy may also attempt to prepare themselves for graduate level occupational therapy schools by studying appropriate subjects, including biology, psychology, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, and anatomy, which are courses typical for most careers in healthcare.

At occupational therapy schools, students should be hoping to obtain a master's level degree, such as an Occupational Therapy Master of Science (MS) degree or a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT). The exact requirements held by occupational therapy schools may vary from school to school, but there are some general requirements dictated by the American Occupational Therapy Association, which are common across the board.

For more information, follow the link to our article on occupational therapy colleges. Additionally, for information on the versatile options available through distance and online education, visit our page on online occupational therapy programs.

What are the Job Prospects for the Occupational Therapy Field?

An occupational therapist can find work in many different places. These include rehabilitation centers, which often house useful tools and machines provided for assistance in occupational therapy. However, working at rehabilitation centers will often require a great amount of time and effort from the practicing occupational therapists.

Occupational therapists may also find work at elementary schools. Many students at elementary schools are in need of some form of occupational therapy, and many school systems are equipped and budgeted to provide such occupational therapy to their students.  Unfortunately, working at a school is unlikely to provide as much of a complete and useful setting as working at rehabilitation centers. In addition to ample opportunities for jobs in different working environments, the average occupational therapy salary on the market today is on the rise.

Regardless of where you find work and what you earn, though, one thing is certain. Work in occupational therapy can be some of the most fulfilling work out there in the world today, and if you have the interest, it's a path that can take you to great places.

If you want to pursue occupational therapy as an undergraduate or if you're interested in pursuing occupational therapy assistantships, check out our article on earning an undergraduate occupational therapy degree.

Occupational Therapy Programs
About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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