by Kevin Stuckey, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
What Is an Occupational Therapist?
An Occupational Therapist (OT) is a healthcare professional
who focuses on helping individuals live self-sufficient lives. These
therapists work with people who have conditions that are mentally,
physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling—the focus is on
important skills for daily activities, including those that happen in the
home and those for recreation (Educational-Portal.com, n.d., ¶ 1). OTs
also help people develop, recover, or maintain other daily living and work skills.
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do in a School Setting?
In schools, occupational therapists help students succeed in daily routines including classroom,
playground, lunchroom, and extracurricular activities. They do this through the development of study
skills, self-care independence, problem-solving abilities, social skills, and career interests. Occupational
therapy services help children develop positive habits and routines that support physical, intellectual, and
emotional health and growth. Occupational therapists have specialized knowledge and skills in “social and
emotional learning and regulation; task analysis, including sensory, motor, cognitive, and social
components; assistive technology; and activity and environmental modifications” (American Occupational
Therapy Association, 2009, ¶ 4).
Occupational therapists address the sensory needs of students as well as the aspects within the
school environment that impact learning. They offer direct services to individuals and small groups, as
well as interventions for whole classrooms. They also offer consultation and collaboration with the entire
school team, such as social workers, nurses, guidance counselors, and speech-language pathologists, to
support a student’s learning, daily living skills, play and leisure activities, and beginning work skills (AOTA,
2009, ¶ 7).
What Are the Steps to Become an Occupational Therapist?
The minimum requirement for occupational therapy is earning a master's degree from an
accredited institution. Some OTs earn a doctoral degree. Generally, the occupational therapy assistant
will earn an associate degree. Practitioners must complete supervised clinical internships in a variety of
health care settings and pass a national examination. Most states also regulate occupational therapy
practice and require a license to provide services (AOTA (1), n.d., ¶ 1-3).
Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?
One of the greatest advantages of a career in occupational therapy is
the wide variety of opportunities. Many occupational therapists work in private
and public schools with students who have learning disabilities and/or
behavioral problems. OTs may also work in nursing homes, community
centers, rehabilitation hospitals, or a client’s home. In these settings, OTs help
clients who have had a traumatic injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or mental
health problems learn to live productive lives through the use of meaningful and
Will I Have a Job?
Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase much faster than the average for
all occupations through 2014—additionally, occupational therapy has been listed as one of the nation’s
150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs (AOTA (2), n.d., ¶ 4).You can find more information about a career in
occupational therapy at www.aota.org
American Occupational Therapy Association (1). (n.d.). Occupational therapy: Fact sheets and articles. Retrieved October 12, 2009.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2009). Occupational therapy and school mental health. Retrieved October 12, 2009.