How to become an occupational therapist

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occupational therapist with patient

Imagine if you weren’t able to get online. How would your life be affected? What if you weren’t able to get out of bed in the morning, or make your own way to school or work?

Helping people live full and happy lives is the role of an occupational therapist. And if you have excellent communication skills and a real desire to make a difference to people’s lives in a job that challenges you, it could be the career for you.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • What is an occupational therapist?
  • What does an occupational therapist do?
  • What’s the occupational therapist salary?
  • What skills would I need? Is it the right path for me?
  • What are the occupational therapist qualifications that I need?

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists give people practical support to help them recover from issues caused by physical or mental illness, accidents or ageing.

'If you want to make a difference in a job that challenges you, occupational therapy could be for you. Learn more'

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They enable them to overcome the problems that prevent them from doing everyday activities and tasks. So in this sense, ‘occupation’ means any practical activity that we do in life. It could be taking care of ourselves, going to work, studying at school, doing hobbies, or playing sports.

Overall, occupational therapists improve people’s independence and happiness in different areas of their lives.


Learn more about the different roles an occupational therapist could take on:

What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and backgrounds. Their clients or patients might have disabilities or long-term conditions, or have experienced a trauma in their lives.

The tasks of an occupational therapist might include:

  • Helping people to approach an everyday task differently.
  • Using equipment or technology to improve people’s movement.
  • Working with clients to set goals and ways to meet those goals.
  • Helping people adapt after they’ve had surgery like a hip replacement for instance.
  • Supporting children with disabilities to take part in activities.
  • Helping people with dementia and people who have suffered strokes to do things for themselves.
  • Helping people with mental illness to take on activities like going back to work or volunteering.
  • Supporting older people to stay in their homes by working with equipment like stair lifts.
  • Encouraging someone with depression to take on a new challenge or hobby.
  • Suggesting ways that a company could adapt its office after a staff member has been injured.
  • Keeping notes about patients’ progress and giving advice to their families and carers.

Occupational therapists who work for the NHS tend to work in hospitals, clinics and GP practices. They’re also employed by social services, nursing homes, charities, prisons, companies and schools. They also visit patients at their workplaces and homes.

The role of an occupational therapist includes working with families and groups of people as well as with individuals. They could be working with a patient for several months or just a few sessions.

What’s an occupational therapist’s salary?

The starting salary for the role of an occupational therapist is between £21,500 and £25,000. An experienced occupational therapist can expect to earn between £26,000 and £34,800.

What skills are required for the job? Is it right for me?

  • First-rate people skills: you’ll be working with a range of different patients. You need to be compassionate and show empathy.
  • Brilliant communication skills: you’ll have to give explanations of how to take on various activities or use equipment. You’ll need to actively listen to your patients.
  • Excellent team-working abilities: occupational therapists usually work with teams of different healthcare professionals (including physiotherapists, nurses and social workers) so you’d need to be able to form strong working relationships.
  • Ability to motivate people who might be disheartened or frustrated. Patience and enthusiasm are important.
  • Determined: emotional resilience and physical stamina is important as the job is challenging and you’ll be on your feet much of the time.
  • Problem—solving abilities: the role of an occupational therapist involves finding solutions to practical difficulties.

Check out this video to see why people are drawn to careers in occupational therapy:

What are the occupational therapist qualifications that I need?

In order to become an occupational therapist, you need to do a degree or postgraduate qualification in occupational therapy that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and then register with the HCPC.

To apply for the degree, you’ll typically need five GCSEs at grades 9-4 including English and maths, plus at least two A-levels (or equivalent), including at least one science subject. Degree courses take three or four years full-time.

It’s a good idea to pursue a work shadowing opportunity with an occupational therapist so you can get a feel for the role. You could also find out about work experience in healthcare.

Image credits

Main image via Wikimedia Commons



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