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‘How to become an occupational therapist?‘ – this question often strikes the thoughts of people who wish to provide their assistance to people going through emotional, physical, developmental, and mental health ailments.
To understand how to become an occupational therapist and how to build a successful career in occupational therapy, it is important to understand who is an occupational therapist and, more importantly, what occupational therapy is.
1) What is Occupational Therapy?
To understand how to become an occupational therapist and what kind of educational background you need to have a career in occupational therapy, you need to understand what occupational therapy is.
Occupational therapy is a clinical practice that assists people’s health and welfare. Occupational therapy helps people be more active in their everyday life. Occupational therapists work with people to increase their participation and presence in activities they want to do. They also help modify the environment by using assistive technology to ensure their clients can engage in everyday activities.
Occupational therapy includes school, work, hobbies, household work, and social situations. If a person has acquired a disability or medical issue, a doctor may refer them to occupational therapy. This way, occupational therapy can assist people with disabilities enhance their quality of life.
The second question to answer while discussing how to become an occupational therapist is to understand what are occupational therapy services.
2) What do Occupational Therapists Do?
To understand how to become an occupational therapist, understanding what occupational therapists do is very important.
Occupational therapy deals with people of all ages and activities of all kinds. Occupational therapists normally follow particular stages to reach their desired goals.
These are the stages of work a therapist will follow during their occupational therapy appointments:
- Stage 1, Assessment: Occupational therapy is based on repeated assessments. Occupational therapists work with their clients by focusing on their abilities and environment. This stage uses standardized procedures, observations, interviews, and consultation with others in the client’s life.
- Stage 2, Planning: After completing an assessment of the client, the occupational therapists will start working on a plan. This plan includes short and long-term goals, keeping the person’s habits, roles, lifestyle preferences, development stages, and environment in mind.
- Stage 3, Intervention: This stage focuses on programs oriented to the person and their abilities. These programs facilitate the performance of daily tasks. Using new techniques, occupational therapists help clients gain more independence in their day-to-day life.
- Stage 4, Cooperation: Any occupational therapy program focuses on cooperation. Occupation therapy practitioners recognize the importance of this holistic approach and encourage the teamwork of families, caregivers, and other professionals.
At your first appointment, occupational therapy will focus on assessing your needs. They may come to your home or office to assess what changes can be made. If they’re working with a child, they may go to their school. Most of the time, they will ask to move furniture around and use assistive technology like a cane.
In the next appointment, they’ll work to come up with a therapy plan. They will set goals designed for your needs or limits. A pediatric occupational therapist will help train your hand-eye movements so that you can engage in new tasks.
Here are a few things occupational therapists do:
- Help adults avoid falls
- Train you in using assistive devices
- Teach you to do minor activities, like taking a shower
- Get treatment plans for people who have had a stroke
- Help change the environment to prevent injuries and build muscle
- Organize your tools and medications
- Help with behavioral problems
- Build hand-eye coordination
- Enhance your motor skills
- Change the office environment to help clients continue working
- Help navigate through changes
- Help participate wholly in activities
- Help people with disabilities participate in social situations and events.
The American Occupational Therapy Association has more than 230,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and students in the United States. It helps advance occupational therapy with the help of education and research. The American Occupational Therapy Association states that the duties of occupational therapists include the following:
- Working to identify goals.
- Design a plan to perform their activities and reach the goal.
- Check to see if set goals are being met.
- If goals aren’t being met, make the appropriate changes to the plan.
The AOTA provides resources and guidance to inspire practitioners to be passionate and creative. The AOTA is important in helping people understand how to become occupational therapists.
3) How to become an Occupational Therapist?
To understand how to become an occupational therapist, it’s important to remember that you must possess certain skills and educational qualifications.
3.1) How to become an Occupational Therapist: Educational Qualifications
Here are the important things you need to become an occupational therapist:
- It is important to possess knowledge of the path of occupational therapy.
- You will have to possess a degree in Occupational Therapy, and an undergraduate degree isn’t enough, so you need to work for a Master’s Degree. This is the most important degree in your career as an occupational therapist.
- While completing your master’s degree program, you will also get a practical starting point. You will, therefore, be able to understand the therapeutic use of theory.
- Supervised work for at least 24 hours is required after graduating from the course. This helps you understand the real world and the impact of occupational therapy on it. If you want a doctoral degree in occupational therapy, you must finish 16 more hours of experiential learning.
- After completing your master’s degree and getting comprehensive knowledge of your career, you will be eligible to complete your license requirements and become a licensed occupational therapist.
- You should opt for fieldwork that is in sync with your specialization. For example, speech therapists need to get practical experience in school systems. By doing this, you can choose the population you will be serving.
There are a few more things to remember if you want to learn how to become an occupational therapist. This revolves around the fact that the procedure to apply to become an occupational therapist differs internationally. This is the procedure most of the websites related to occupational therapy will show:
- Graduate from an accredited course: The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) ensures that educational institutions have entry-level degrees for gaining education and experience. After getting an entry-level degree, continuing education is important, so you’ll need to get a master’s degree, too.
- Complete Fieldwork Requirements: Fieldwork is vital. To become a registered occupational therapist, you must get a lot of fieldwork done. Each university will determine the amount of fieldwork you need after being given a guideline from the AOTA.
- Give the NBCOT exam: You must clear the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. This test is the most important stepping stone for you to get the title of ‘Occupational Therapist Registered. You can give this test after obtaining your master’s degree, and this test requires an application fee of $515.
- Apply for Licensure: After passing the NBCOT exam, you must apply for your license. Many states require occupational therapists to first practice on a limited permit, but each state will have its differences. Therefore, you must research the state’s requirements to understand their licensure requirements. The licensing fee is around $110.
After you’ve gotten your license, continuing education classes becomes crucial. Keep working and studying to ensure that you are up to date with the new practices in the field.
3.2) How to become an Occupational Therapist: Skills
Educational qualifications are incredibly important when it comes to how to become an occupational therapist. However, you may not be the best at your profession if you don’t have the required skills. Therefore, to understand how to become an occupational therapist, you need to be well-equipped with the following skills:
- Creative Problem Solving: Occupational therapy requires you to create customized plans for treating your clients. Because of this, your problem-solving skills need to be great enough to combat every problem.
- Communication Skills: You must describe the plans to your clients in a language they understand. Your communication skills will be really important to execute this. You also need to be able to communicate community mobility to help make public transport easier.
- Skill to Engage and Support: Any certified occupational therapist or certified occupational therapy assistant needs to be able to care for the client. Clients who come for occupational therapy often have mental and physical challenges to overcome, so it’s important to be able to support and encourage them. Supporting your client throughout their progress, no matter how small, is important as it shows your clients that you have faith in them.
- Physical strength: Occupational therapists also need to provide physical support. Occupational therapists will need to help clients with things like bathing, using medical equipment, etc. So, they need to be physically strong, too.
- Skills in Organization: Occupational therapy includes a lot of documentation. Insurance forms, schedules, charts, records, and treatment plans are all responsibilities of occupational therapists. The occupational therapist is the one who coordinates with other therapists, like physical therapists and counselors, in clinical practice. Therefore, having your documents ready and prepared makes a massive impact.
- Empathy: Occupational therapists are most in touch with vulnerable clients, so being empathetic and patient is very important. Treating clients in emotional and challenging situations requires you to be patient. Sometimes, the patient’s progress may be slower than expected; in this situation, it is important to encourage the client’s small steps and not be upset.
- Flexibility: Occupational therapy requires you to be flexible with appointment times, other medical priorities, etc. Managing your day with flexibility is very important for any occupational therapy practitioner. Having a flexible schedule makes it easy to avoid clashes and scheduling conflicts.
If you are interested in learning about another great therapy that helps overcome phobias, check out this article: What is Exposure Therapy: 3 Types of Exposure Therapy.
4) Importance of Occupational Therapists
After understanding how to become an occupational therapist, it’s important to understand and appreciate the importance of occupational therapists. You can find occupational therapists in various settings; their role in each is very visible. Here are the spaces occupational therapists serve in:
- Nursing homes
- Long-term care facilities
- Outpatient clinical practice clients
- School systems
- Private practices
Occupational therapy helps evaluate patients’ conditions and communicate with them. They also exercise and demonstrate exercises and procedures for their clients. Additionally, they recommend equipment depending on what the patients need. If it weren’t for occupational therapists, clients wouldn’t be able to monitor their progress.
Occupational therapy helps make individuals feel independent and aware of their self-care. Occupational therapy also helps increase endurance for functional tasks; it increases clients’ strength. It can also help improve functional cognition and visual deficits. After much education and practice, occupational therapists come out as great caregivers.
Occupational therapists help improve the lifestyle of their clients in very complex ways. They modify environments, collaborate with families, and work with other professionals to help create a more efficient life for their clients.
5) How to become an Occupational Therapist: A Conclusion
Occupational therapy plays a core role in the lives of many people who face difficulties with physical tasks. Aspiring occupational therapists need to do a lot of supervised fieldwork to understand the weightage of their profession in the current world.
Occupational therapy is probably the only profession in the field of therapy that focuses so much on modifying and changing the living environment to fit better with the clients’ abilities.
Learning how to become an occupational therapist is just the first step in this long journey; following it up with fieldwork and practical experience will help you become a great occupational therapist.