About Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists help people of all ages learn or regain the skills they need to function and live independently. For example, OTs may work with children who have autism or developmental or learning disabilities, people recovering the ability to do their own personal care after a stroke or accident, and clients with mental illness coping with the demands of daily living. OTs work in hospitals, mental health facilities, rehabilitation hospitals, public schools, community centers, nursing homes, and private practice. OTs develop customized treatment plans; analyze homes and job sites to make recommendations about adaptive needs; train people in using adaptive equipment; and provide support and guidance to family members and caregivers. 

Preparation and Applying
  • Clinical experience is generally required and ideally will include a number of clinical practice settings. Many schools require a minimum of 40 hours of clinical observation time split between at least two clinical settings.
  • Research experience is a plus, especially for doctoral programs, and ideally includes learning about human subjects review boards.
  • The initial courses are similar to other professional health care fields such as Physical Therapy programs, yet some further courses are required.
  • Individual programs vary in the courses they require; a broad academic background is encouraged including completion of the following courses. Many programs require a grade of at least a C in prerequisite courses.
Education and Licensure
  • To attend an accredited OT program, a bachelor’s degree in any major and the appropriate prerequisite coursework is required. A master’s degree leads to an O.T.R. (Occupational Therapist Registered). A doctoral program leads to an O.T.D. (Doctor of Occupational Therapy).
  • Many programs are shifting to the doctoral degree, but it is possible to practice with either a master’s degree or a doctorate. The doctoral program places a greater emphasis on management, theory, research, and critical thinking and will require 3 years rather than the 2 years required for the master’s degree.
  • Graduation from an accredited educational program and passing a national certification examination is required to become an occupational therapist.

Additional Resources