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How do I Become an Occupational Therapist?

By Carol Francois
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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To become an occupational therapist, you must complete post-secondary education in social work, psychology, or occupational therapy. These programs are available at colleges, universities, and career colleges. It takes at least two years of formal schooling, in addition to a work experience component. University programs are often four years long, with additional courses available to extend the program to five or six years in length.

An occupational therapist is a trained professional that helps people relearn the basic life skills required to be an independent adult. Seniors and people who have experienced a serious accident, brain injury, or major mental illness often require the services of an occupational therapist. The decision to transition into or out of independent living is based on the patient’s ability to master these skills.

To study occupational therapy, you must have successfully completed courses in math, biology, English, and anatomy. All these courses provide the background necessary to be successful in this field. Gain valuable work experience by volunteering in a rehabilitation hospital, stroke treatment facility, or senior citizens home.

Some states have license requirements for anyone who wants to become an occupational therapist. Candidates must pass a state licensing exam in order to work as an occupational therapist. Learn about the requirements in your state and ensure that you have completed all the educational and experience requirements before you apply.

The role of occupational therapist is central to the rehabilitation of patients and their families after an accident or illness. It is very important to have excellent communication skills, compassion, and patience in this role. Identify a mentor and work with them to learn the correct balance of professional and personal relationships, as you become an occupational therapist.

As you advance in your career as an occupational therapist, stay up to date with the latest technologies and theories by participating in seminars, lectures, and part-time courses. The local association of occupational therapists, treatment hospital, or university often provides these programs. Occupational therapists often find employment with private health plans and insurance companies. Group homes, governments, and social workers rely on them for support, guidance, and information to properly support patients on their road to recovery.

Many people who have experience as personal support workers or nurses make the transition to become an occupational therapist. Apply to the local university or college, and ask for academic credit for any prior education and work experience. This will significantly reduce the number of courses that you will need to take to become an occupational therapist.

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Discussion Comments

By amypollick — On Mar 02, 2013

@anon322841: All you need to do is google your state and occupational therapy programs. That should tell you all the OT programs available in your area.

By anon322841 — On Mar 01, 2013

Right now I am going to Gateway community college to get my general education classes done. I want to become an OT. I just don't know what to do after I finish at Gateway. Can anyone please help?

By CopperPipe — On Jan 16, 2011

How would you say that becoming an occupational therapist compares to becoming a personal trainer in terms of career prospects?

I am looking into several different careers, and it seems like it might be easier to become a physical therapist, but I can't find a lot of information about job prospects.

Can you give me some more information about this?

Thank you.

By FirstViolin — On Jan 13, 2011

Hello -- I would just like to add that anyone thinking of becoming an occupational therapist should really try to shadow an occupational therapist for a while before you commit to training as an occupational therapist.

Many hospitals or clinics that have occupational therapists have at least one that will feel comfortable with you acting as an occupational therapist assistant for a few weeks to see if the job is really for you.

I say this because many people get through all the theoretical and abstract training, and then when it comes down to actually working with people they realize that it's really not for them.

Of course, after spending all that time and money getting that education, many don't want to change, so they just go on working in a job that makes them miserable, and thus less effective.

So if you are thinking of getting into any job like this, really try to get some hands on experience before you commit.

By StreamFinder — On Jan 10, 2011

Thanks for all this information -- I am trying to decide what kind of therapist career I should train for, so I really appreciate all the details.

I have been considering whether I should become a personal trainer, a physical therapist, or an occupational therapist. I know that those are kind of similar in that they have to do with helping people physically, but I am still delving into all the little details to figure out which one would fit me best.

If anyone reading this is a personal trainer, occupational therapist, or physical therapist, I would really love to hear about your training and experience with the job. Thanks all.

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