OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY

Occupational therapy is concerned with the process of everyday living. This area of healthcare deals not only with the bodies of patients but also with minds and spirits. Helping a patient experience life to the fullest extent possible is the goal of the occupational therapist (OT).

Overcoming challenges to quality living best describes the role of an OT. Patients come from diverse situations and backgrounds. Some patients suffer from learning disabilities or developmental conditions such as cerebral palsy; others may be stroke survivors who want to live independently again. Disabled workers benefit from the assistance of occupational therapists both in regaining their work skills and in making their environment safer to reduce the risk of future injuries. OTs also assist patients who are dealing with depression or other mental health conditions learn to live on their own again or as independently as possible within their communities.

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PATIENTS SERVED BY OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS  
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY TREATMENT SERVICES  
   
PERSONALITY TRAITS & INTERESTS REQUIRED  
WORK ENVIRONMENT  
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANTS & AIDES  
CAREER OUTLOOK  
   
   

 

OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS SERVE A VARIETY OF PATIENTS

Patients most likely to benefit from the skills of occupational therapists, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association, have the following conditions:

  1. Work-related injuries including lower back problems or repetitive stress injuries
  2. Limitations following a stroke or heart attack
  3. Arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or other serious condition
  4. Birth injuries, learning problems, or developmental disabilities
  5. Mental health or behavioral problems including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress
  6. Problems with substance use or eating disorders
  7. Burns, spinal cord injuries from falls, sports injuries, or accidents
  8. Vision or cognitive problems that threaten a person’s ability to drive.
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OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY TREATMENT SERVICES

Occupational therapists may work exclusively with patients in a specific age group or with a particular condition, or they may serve a variety of patients. More than one fourth of all OTs concentrate on helping children succeed in learning, playing, and growing. The OT’s intervention may begin as early as the premature infant who must be taught the motor skills needed for eating. Assistance may be in the form of instilling the confidence needed for a child with learning disabilities, behavioral problems, or developmental disabilities to achieve success in the tasks of everyday living. Or, assistance may come in finding different ways, or assistive technology, that can aid a child in overcoming physical disabilities.

Occupational therapists ease the transition from hospital to home for people recovering from traumatic injuries, strokes, amputations, and other disabling conditions. Although survivors of these situations may be faced with lifetime disabilities, OTs can help them return to active, satisfying lives. Chores the patient once took for granted may seem overwhelming after illnesses or injuries. For example, learning how to dress and feed oneself, cooking a meal, attending to personal hygiene, moving around in the home, cleaning the house or doing the laundry now may require new approaches. Solutions may be simple or require computerized technology. All take patience in teaching and in learning.

Ergonomics and body mechanics are areas of particular interest to occupational therapists. Many of their patients suffer from arthritis or chronic pain, often brought on by repetitive tasks, incorrect placement of the body, or misuse of the muscles. In addition to addressing existing conditions or pains, occupational therapists also analyze the work or home environment to determine practices and products that will help prevent tendon and other injuries, muscle pain, and conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Occupational therapists have participated in care provided by mental health facilities for more than 100 years. Their duties include encouraging personal hygiene and helping improve interpersonal and social skills. Helping patients learn to cope with the outside world, set goals, take medications, maintain their space or home, manage time and money, and establish work or volunteer relationships are assignments that occupational therapists regularly undertake.

The American Occupational Therapy Association, in explaining how OTs help individuals achieve independence in all facets of their lives, describes typical services as the following:

  1. Customized treatment programs aimed at improving abilities to carry out the activities of daily living
  2. Comprehensive evaluation of home and job environments and recommendations on necessary adaptation
  3. Assessment and treatment of performance skills
  4. Recommendations and training in the use of adaptive equipment to replace lost function
  5. Guidance to family members and attendants in safe and effective methods of caring for disabled individuals.
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PERSONALITY TRAITS & INTERESTS REQUIRED

To pursue a career in occupational therapy, you need to be interested in all facets of life – the physical, mental, emotional, and developmental. The educational curriculum includes the study of human growth and development with special emphasis on the social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury as well as course work in the behavioral sciences. A strong science background is required as is study in the arts and the social sciences. Patience and excellent interpersonal skills that inspire trust and respect are a necessity. Ingenuity and imagination in devising creative approaches to problem solving will enhance the ability to meet individual needs. Because OTs work in many different settings, the ability to adapt to a variety of home and work environments is an asset.

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WORK ENVIRONMENT

Occupational therapists employed in hospitals, other healthcare facilities, and community settings usually work a 40-hour week. The school work setting may require meetings and other activities during and after the school day. One-third of all occupational therapists work on a part-time basis. The work setting varies from spacious, high-tech medical facilities to individual homes. Driving may be required to visit home-bound patients and OTs need to be in good physical condition as some lifting and moving of home-bound patients is required.

The industries that employed the most occupational therapists in 2012 were as follows: hospitals – 28%; offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists – 22%; elementary and secondary schools – 12%; nursing care facilities – 9%; and home health care services – 9%.

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OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANTS & AIDES

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists to provide rehabilitative care to help people of all ages prevent, lessen, or overcome disabilities and injuries.

The relationship of occupational therapist, assistant, and aide is similar to that of the registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and certified nurse assistant. The occupational therapy aide position is an entry level one, requiring less training and paying the lowest salary of the three. Many aides receive their training on the job. The occupational therapy assistant follows a treatment plan that has been developed in collaboration with the occupational therapist. The OT assistant must complete a two-year associate’s degree or certificate program from an accredited community college or technical school while the occupational therapist now is a master’s or doctoral level educational path. Strong interpersonal skills and a true desire to help others is a must for all occupational therapy professionals.

According to labor department statistic, occupational therapist assistants and aides held about 34,400 jobs in 2008 with assistants holding about 26,600 jobs and aides holding approximately 7,800 jobs. About 28% of jobs for assistants and aides were in offices of health practitioners, 27% were in hospitals, and 20% were in nursing care facilities. The balance were primarily in community care facilities for the elderly, home healthcare services, individual and family services, and government agencies.

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CAREER OUTLOOK

Department of Labor projections indicate that employment of occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and OT aides is expected to grow much faster than for all occupations. Occupational therapists positions are expected to increase by 29% and occupational therapist assistant and aide positions by 43% from 2012 to 2022. Demand for OT professionals is being driven by the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require therapy services. Growth in the population 75 years and older is increasing demand for services as this age group suffers from high incidences of disabling conditions. Also, older persons have an increased incidence of heart attack and stroke, which will spur demand for therapeutic services. In addition, medical advances now enable more patients with critical problems to survive—patients who ultimately may need extensive therapy.

Job prospects for the therapist and the therapist assistant are excellent but jobseekers holding only a high school diploma might face keen competition for occupational therapist aide jobs.

Occupational therapists held about 104,500 jobs in 2008. The largest number of occupational therapist jobs was in ambulatory healthcare services, which employed about 29 percent of occupational therapists. Other major employers were hospitals, offices of other health practitioners (including offices of occupational therapists), public and private educational services, and nursing care facilities. Some occupational therapists were employed by home healthcare services, outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, individual and family services, community care facilities for the elderly, and government agencies. A small number of occupational therapists were self-employed in private practice. These practitioners treated clients referred by other health professionals. They also provided contract or consulting services to nursing care facilities, schools, adult day care programs, and home healthcare agencies.

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