Occupational therapy professionals help injured or disabled people do things they want and need to do by using everyday activities as therapy. These activities can include the use of specialized tools to help a stroke victim learn to feed herself again, voice-activated computers that can allow a paralyzed writer to resume her occupation or play activities to help disabled children strengthen muscles and improve coordination. Occupational therapy careers include occupational therapist, occupational therapy assistant and occupational therapy aide.
Occupational therapists are the most highly educated of the three professionals. An occupational therapist, or OT, must have a minimum of a master’s degree, although she might have a doctorate. OTs must be licensed in all states. The OT assesses the patient and designs a plan of therapy that will meet his needs. The plan will identify specific activities to achieve goals, such as feeding or dressing himself. As the patient progresses through therapy, the OT evaluates his progress and revises the care plan. OTs also supervise staff, including occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Occupational Therapy Assistant
An occupational therapy assistant, or OTA, is often the person who works directly with the patient. She may teach him how to perform exercises and help him to perform stretches. Or, she might lead children in play activities. She reports the patient’s progress to the OT and may make suggestions for changing the care plan. An OTA must have an associate degree from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and some states also require that she be licensed.
Occupational Therapy Aide
The occupational therapy aide is the support person for OTs and OTAs. She generally has a high school diploma or equivalent, and receives on-the-job training which can vary from one office to another. The aide performs clerical tasks such as billing, helps clients fill out forms, schedules appointments or answers the telephone. Aides may also set up therapy equipment or assist in moving patients. An aide might also be responsible for office tasks such as ordering supplies.
Salaries in occupational therapy careers reflect differences in education and responsibility. An occupational therapy aide earned an average of $31,770 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational therapy assistants, with their higher education and practice requirements, earned $52,150. However, occupational therapists, who have the most extensive education, broadest scope of practice and greatest level of responsibility -- including supervision -- earned considerably more, with an average annual salary of $74,970.
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