Overview of Occupational Therapy Specializations

Occupational therapists (OTs) help the injured, elderly and disabled rehabilitate and adapt to physical and cognitive impairments. OTs evaluate client's specific problem areas, provide a customized plan of action and follow up to ensure goals are being met. People who enjoy working one-on-one with others may find this profession rewarding.

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Specializations in Occupational Therapy

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers board certifications in four specialization areas: pediatrics, geriatrics, mental health and physical rehabilitation (www.aota.org). Specific certifications are also available for occupational therapists who want to treat those with issues in mobility, eating and vision impairment, and for OTs who specialize in modifying environments for the disabled.

Pediatric Specialization

In schools, hospitals, childcare programs and in the home, occupational therapists help children learn to physically adjust to physical, emotional, mental and other problems, such as a broken bone or a brain injury. Working with family members, caregivers and other health care providers, OTs develop strategies to strengthen children and teach them new skills. Therapists who want to work with children can focus on pediatric courses while they are in graduate school, such as child development and pediatric interventions.

Geriatric Specialization

Occupational therapists can help modify home environments for aging individuals who are having trouble managing everyday tasks. For example, an OT may add safety aids in bathrooms and railings on stairways to prevent falls. Illnesses can also often affect the elderly, and therapists can teach patients in hospitals, nursing facilities and at home the best ways to use walkers and other medical equipment. Occupational therapists who want to work with the elderly can focus on classes in gerontology and occupations across the life span in graduate school.

Mental Health Specialization

Occupational therapists with a mental health specialization teach patients skills for stress management, money management and socializing. For adults with mental health problems, such as substance abuse, depression and other mood disorders, occupational therapy may be beneficial in setting up strategies to help them cope. Therapists who are interested in a career focused on assisting the mental health community can take courses in psychosocial occupational therapy and psychology.

Physical Rehabilitation Specialization

For individuals suffering from physical limitations due to disease, disability or injury, occupational therapists provide instruction and treatment to help them relearn daily tasks or become reintegrated into their work environments. Therapy may include the use of specially designed equipment, assistive devices and exercises. OTs planning on working with the physically challenged can focus their coursework on such classes as kinesiology, physical disabilities and physical rehabilitation.

OT Education Requirements

Occupational therapists must have at least a graduate degree to enter the profession and must be licensed by their state in order to practice. Some states use the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam as their state licensing exam, while other states have their own exams.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Occupational therapists could expect faster than average job growth from 2010-2020, since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted 33% expansion during that period. The BLS noted an annual median salary of $75,400 for these professionals in 2012.

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