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According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, “Occupational therapy is a science-driven, evidence-based profession that enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent — or live better with — illness, injury or disability.” The use of occupational therapy can be traced as far back as 100 B.C. to the Greek physician Asclepiads, who is said to have treated patients with mental disabilities humanely, utilizing therapeutic baths, massage, exercise, and music. This approach contrasted greatly with the majority of treatments received by individuals with mental and physical impairments during this time, and for many centuries to follow.
Occupational therapy was focused primarily on the treatment of the mentally ill in the US until 1917, when the Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy (now the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.) was founded. With its establishment, the organization sought to broaden the field of occupational therapy to include not just the treatment of the mentally ill, but of all major disabilities an individual faced, mental and physical. To ensure a high level of integrity within the profession, starting in the 1940s occupational therapists were required to have a baccalaureate degree in order to practice. A Master’s degree was offered in accredited schools beginning in 1950. In the 1990s, occupational therapy branched out into occupational science with the creation of doctoral programs.
The goal of an occupational therapist is to assist an individual in living to his or her full ability. Occupational therapists work with people with a mental and/or physical illness, injury, or disability who may not be able to complete day-to-day tasks. Practitioners follow a therapy process based on the needs of the individual: some processes involve fewer or more steps, but share the same ideology. In general, therapists start by gathering information on the client, making an initial assessment based on theory and then begin identifying problem factors in various areas of the client’s life. The next step is to construct a program in which the therapist works with the patient to return them to the most independent state possible.
Occupational therapy is an extremely broad discipline with a focus in six major areas: children and youth; health and wellness; mental health; productive aging; rehabilitation, disability, and participation; and work and industry.
Occupational therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree occupational therapy or another health-related field such as biology before entering an occupational therapy graduate program. Providers must have a minimum of a master’s degree in occupational therapy from an accredited school in order to qualify sitting for the National Board of Certification for Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. A provider may study for another year or two after receiving a master’s degree to gain skills in a specialization. They may alternately pursue an advanced doctorate degree and research as well as practice very specialized occupational therapy.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
All 50 states require occupational therapists to be licensed in order to practice. Licensing qualifications vary by state, but follow a similar framework: providers must have at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy from an accredited university and must have passed the NBCOT national certification exam. The NBCOT is the main certification body for occupational therapists and many professionals will additionally apply for certification from The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The AOTA aims to set and regulate practice standards within the professional community of occupational therapists.
The American Occupational Therapy Association is the national professional association for occupational therapists. The organization’s main goals are to certify professionals, set and regulate practice standards, and promote the field of occupational therapy.
To learn more about occupational therapy, please visit the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website at www.aota.org.