Occupational therapy assistants provide rehabilitative services that improve the quality of life for people with mental, emotional, developmental or physical impairments. They typically work under the supervision of occupational therapists, with the goal of helping people return to their jobs, increase their ability to perform daily living activities and help them cope with lost motor or learning skills.
By collaborating with occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants develop treatment plans for clients, including rehabilitative activities and exercises. Anyone seeking to launch an occupational therapy career can start by enrolling in an associate’s degree in applied psychology program.
Job Outlook for Occupational Therapy Assistants
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that occupational therapy assistant jobs are expected to grow much faster than average in coming years. Employment will increase as the demand for occupational therapy grows, due to a growing elderly population, increasing health issues for the baby boomer generation, and the trend of keeping health costs down by employing more occupational therapy assistants.
Occupational therapy assistants perform a variety of duties designed to help patients and clients improve their quality of life through rehabilitation. Whether patients are experiencing mental, physical or developmental difficulties, occupational therapy assistants carry out treatment plans developed by occupational therapists. They may teach clients mobility-enhancing exercises, or how to bathe, feed and dress themselves.
Preparing materials and assembling equipment used during treatments are additional tasks performed by occupational therapy assistants. These professionals may also monitor a patient’s activities. Often, they record details of a patient’s progress so the occupational therapist can determine whether to continue or change the course of treatment. Additional job duties may include recording insurance billing data.
Occupational therapy assistants typically work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools retirement homes or private facilities. They may be required to travel or to work in patients’ homes. Physical activities such as lifting patients, standing and kneeling may be required. Occupational therapy assistants work full or part time hours, including evenings and weekends.
The BLS reports that in May 2009, the average annual income for occupational therapy assistants was $50,840. The middle 50% earned between $41,200 and $59,890. Salaries for the lowest 10% were around $33,350, while the highest 10% brought in approximately $68,450. Recent associate’s degree program graduates will typically start out at the lower end of the scale and move up in salary with experience.
Education and Training for Occupational Therapy Assistants
Occupational therapy assistant jobs generally require an associate’s degree and completion of an academic program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Many states require licensing, registration or certification; regulations vary by state.
The road to becoming an occupational therapy assistant can begin with an associate’s degree in applied psychology. Coursework typically includes general physical science, human behavior perspective, and lifestyle development and psychology.
Employers can be confident that graduates of an associate’s degree in applied psychology program are able to:
- Identify and solve problems through critical thinking.
- Distinguish between various psychological and interdisciplinary theories of human behavior.
- Value key concepts of sociocultural and international diversity.
- Exhibit testing and measuring skills.
- Leverage advanced skills and knowledge to succeed as an occupational therapy assistant.
Some employers offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to enter the field with an associate’s degree and use a tuition assistance program to pay for a bachelor’s degree program.
Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career a Good Fit for You?
If you have a high level of responsibility and patience, along with the desire to help people live more fulfilling lives, you might consider an occupational therapy assistant career. This profession requires strong interpersonal skills, the ability to work on a team and an understanding of human behavior. If you fit this description, then a career as an occupational therapy assistant could be in your future.