What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists have varied and busy roles. They assess client needs and plan interventions, whether that be getting clients back to work, achieving certain social goals, or improving their physical capabilities in a particular way. Occupational therapists will also work alongside other medical professionals to deliver care to their clients. Occupational therapists must keep records of their client care plans and monitor a client’s progress against that plan. Many occupational therapists also contribute to program and policy development as part of their role.

Tasks:

  • Assess client needs
  • Deliver intervention programs to clients
  • Monitor client progress
  • Liaise with other medical professionals
  • Contribute to program and policy development

What skills do I need to be an occupational therapist?

Successful occupational therapists are people who are flexible and good at problem solving. They have excellent communication skills, both orally and in writing. It is also important that they are able to work independently. Occupational therapists must be discreet and empathetic, and it is crucial that they are able to relate well to clients and other medical professionals from a variety of backgrounds.
Skills/attributes
  • Discreet, culturally sensitive and empathetic
  • Innovative and good at problem solving
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Strong people skills

Specialisations

There are a number of ways in which occupational therapists can specialise. Many choose to dedicate themselves to a particular field such as working with the elderly or people recovering from physical injuries. Others choose to work in corporate settings delivering injury prevention programs. Occupational therapists are also often in demand for research and policy development roles.

Dedicated occupational therapists

Dedicated occupational therapists tend to work exclusively in one area of occupational therapy, and become experts in that area. This enables them to gain a deeper understanding of issues relevant to their particular area of interest and in turn provide more comprehensive and effective interventions for their clients.

Corporate occupational therapists

Many organisations will hire occupational therapists, generally as consultants in private practice, to work with their employees to minimise their risk of obtaining an injury at work. These occupational therapists will help educate employees on things such as how to set up their workstations, how to manage their work day, and occupational health and safety issues specific to the workplace they are in. Corporate occupational therapists can also help injured employees as they transition back to work.

Research and policy development

Occupational therapists tend to have a thorough understanding of a wide variety of issues related to health, employment, social interactions, and special needs education, and this can make them extremely valuable in roles where policy is being developed or research is being undertaken on these topics. Such roles are often located in government agencies or academic settings.

Study pathways for occupational therapists

Occupational therapists must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in occupational therapy, or an associated field.

Getting Started

A certificate IV level qualification will enable you to work as an occupational therapy aide, which can be an excellent pathway into occupational therapy.

Skill Building

To become a practising occupational therapist, you will need to complete an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification through a recognised institution.

Professional Development

Occupational therapists looking to move into policy and research roles could consider a Graduate Certificate in Policy and Applied Social Research, and those wishing to move into private practice and consultancy could consider study in a business-related field.

Industry Recognition

Occupational therapists must be registered with the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia.

Getting a job after graduation

Put your training to good use and get the best professional head start in your occupational therapy career. Take a look at our sample resume and cover letter and put your best foot forward when you apply for occupational therapist jobs.

Job Prospects and Salaries

There is projected to be strong growth in the occupational therapy field in the coming years. Salaries tend to be above average, although a large number of occupational therapist roles are also part-time.