Occupational Therapist Schools:
Becoming an Occupational Therapist
As an occupational therapist, you could be a real hero for countless people who require help to live more productive, independent lives. If you are naturally caring, trustworthy and patient, and enjoy dreaming up creative solutions, occupational therapist schools can put you on the path to a truly rewarding career.
Understand the Difference Between "Occupational Therapist" and "Occupational Therapist Assistant"
Both jobs are growing in demand and serve a common purpose, complementing each other. But, although there is only one word of difference between these job titles, the educational requirements for each are very far apart. The levels of responsibility are also vastly different.
Occupational therapists are the decision makers, and by law, must be highly educated. They supervise the occupational therapist assistants. Occupational therapists are responsible for devising the treatment plans that help their clients attain fuller lives at home and/or work.
Occupational therapists must be able to assess the complex physical, mental and emotional conditions that affect their clients, and then form ingenious strategies to overcome those barriers. Their clients can vary substantially—from the permanently disabled to injured workers; from infants and toddlers to the elderly; from the mentally ill to those fighting addiction or other disorders.
While occupational therapist assistants serve the same clients, they are required to have far less education. Under the supervision of occupational therapists, they carry out the prescribed activities and exercises laid out in their clients' treatment plans. They monitor the performance of those activities, provide encouragement, and make sure each task is done correctly. Occupational therapist assistants must record their clients' progress, and may also be responsible for documenting the billing of their health insurance providers.
Select the Right Schooling
The typical minimum educational requirement for a career as an occupational therapist is a master's degree from an accredited program. Therefore, it is essential that you choose a graduate school with an occupational therapist program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
If you choose to prepare for a graduate program in occupational therapy, the best undergraduate majors are generally considered to be those in biology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, or the liberal arts. Once in graduate school, you can expect demanding coursework in the biological, physical and behavioral sciences, as well as theory and skills in applied occupational therapy. Most programs also include 24 weeks of supervised work in the field.
Occupational therapist assistants, on the other hand, typically enter the field with an associate's degree from a program accredited by ACOTE. Their coursework generally includes subjects like basic medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, mental health, physical disabilities, pediatrics, and gerontology. Occupational therapy assistant programs also typically include 16 weeks of supervised work in the field.
Get Proper Certification
With the right education, both occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistants are ready to meet the final requirements for entry into their professions. Every U.S. state regulates occupational therapists, and the majority of U.S. states also regulate occupational therapist assistants.
Different states have different regulations and use different terms, but whether it is called licensure, registration, or certification, it still comes down to one big thing. You must pass a certification exam, either the state's own or, more commonly, from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
Occupational therapists that pass their exam earn the title Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). For occupational therapist assistants that pass their exam, they are awarded the title Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
Begin the Journey
Whether you choose to become an occupational therapist or an occupational therapist assistant, the personal rewards that come from working in this field can be enormous. So if you are genuinely compassionate and don't mind a little hard work on the way to such a career, then having a look at a few occupational therapist schools is a great way to start. Motivated people who are in need of a little assistance could soon be thanking you!
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