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Career: Occupational Therapist

A Day in the life of a Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists care for persons with disabling mental, physical, developmental, and emotional conditions and help them recover or develop and maintain their daily living and work skills. With clients who are overcoming everything from strokes to attention deficit disorder, occupational therapists help their patients have productive and independent lives. They help patients compensate for the loss of functions, as in the case of amputees or recently disabled individuals, as well as improve motor skills and reasoning and perceptual abilities. Some therapists work solely with specific disabilities or with certain age groups. Specialties include alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, mental health, and industry-specific injury and pain management. Occupational therapy requires unequivocal dedication, and often rewards its practitioners with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The profession calls for the best of those individuals who practice it; occupational therapists must be compassionate, caring, patient, and capable of commanding the respect and trust of people within their care. “The satisfaction you get from helping someone reclaim their life is enormous,” one student intern enthused. “Sometimes they come in depressed and angry and gradually their spirits are renewed with each day of therapy, and hope is in their eyes and their future.” The well-trained professional is familiar with a wide range of activities that will be employed as a matter of course in the patient’s recovery. Patients suffering from coordination problems, for example, may be given manual art projects, such as creative handicrafts, to improve hand-eye coordination. Practical activities such as gardening and weaving increase strength and dexterity. Although most occupational therapists work an average 40-hour week, it is often emotionally draining and backbreaking work. Practitioners are challenged to develop and implement exercises that will gain the maximum participation and interest of patients. Occupational therapists face significant challenges when dealing with patients with permanent physical handicaps, such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injuries. They develop and teach patients how to operate adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and other devices that allow individuals with limitations to exercise a measure of control over their environment. Occupational therapists who work with the physically disabled must have strength, agility, and stamina to help patients in and out of beds and wheelchairs and allow patients to lean on them while they assist them with various exercises, such as walking and lifting weights. Not all therapists need to be physically strong and powerful, but all, including industrial therapists who assist patients in finding and holding jobs, are challenged to inspire trust, motivate progress, and demonstrate concern and compassion.

Paying Your Dues

Starting in 2007, all certified occupational therapists will be required to have an entrylevel master’s or doctoral degree. Until then, they can get by with a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. But they too will have to pass the test administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, which enables those who pass to apply to their state regulatory board to practice. Internships or volunteer work in the health care field demonstrate to potential employers the commitment that is a necessary prerequisite to this profession. Applicants should carefully consider their ability to physically and emotionally cope with the demands of the job. By far the most significant qualification applicants to this profession could have is a sincere commitment to the care of others.

Associated Careers

With a rapidly aging population, the need for assorted health care professionals to provide specialized rehabilitative care will remain constant. Because therapists are required to be versed in a number of activities that are used in the care of the disabled, this facilitates an easy transition to alternative occupations. Horticulture, music, dance, manual arts, and creative handicrafts are exercises for the physically challenged as well as those individuals suffering from stress-related illnesses. Some occupational therapists, with further studies, will move into orthotics, chiropractic treatment, speech pathology, audiology, prosthetics, physical therapy, and rehabilitation counseling areas.

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