What Occupational Therapists Do
Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.
About half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals. Others work in schools, nursing homes, and home health services. Therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. All states require occupational therapists to be licensed.
The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $84,950 in May 2019.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 16 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.
Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.
Occupational therapists typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks
- Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
- Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals
- Help people with various disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
- Demonstrate exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
- Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory
- Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
- Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment
- Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks. Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. These devices help patients perform a number of daily tasks, allowing them to function more independently.
Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with disabilities, and help children participate in school activities. Therapists also may provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.
Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives. They assess patients’ abilities and environment and make recommendations to improve the patients’ everyday lives. For example, therapists may identify potential fall hazards in a patient’s home and recommend their removal.
In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments. They evaluate the workspace, recommend modifications, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.
Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems. Therapists teach these patients skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them cope with, and engage in, daily life activities. In addition, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or other disorders. They may also work with people who have been through a traumatic event, such as a car accident.
Some occupational therapists, such as those employed in hospitals, work as part of a healthcare team along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. They may work with patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, or help rehabilitate a patient recovering from hip replacement surgery. Occupational therapists also oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Occupational therapists held about 143,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of occupational therapists were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||26%|
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||26|
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||12|
|Home healthcare services||9|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||8|
Therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients. They also may be required to lift and move patients or heavy equipment. Many work in multiple facilities and have to travel from one job to another.
Most occupational therapists work full time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of occupational therapists.
For more information about occupational therapists, visit
For more information about the certification exam for Occupational Therapist, Registered, visit
For information regarding the requirements for practice as an occupational therapist in schools, contact state occupational therapy regulatory agencies.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm (visited ).