occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is a specialized healthcare field in which therapists assist individuals of all ages improve or enhance their capacity to participate in essential daily activities. The activities OTs and OTAs help with can include activities of daily living (eating, bathing, paying bills, etc.) and work-related responsibilities.

Occupational therapy can be a rewarding career choice for people who are passionate about helping others. Prospective students have two distinct professional avenues to consider: that of an occupational therapist and an occupational therapy assistant.

Both roles involve assisting individuals in overcoming physical, cognitive or emotional challenges to lead more fulfilling lives. Both also have some distinct differences in terms of responsibilities, earnings and education requirements.

By understanding the differences, you can make an informed decision about which occupational therapy career path aligns best with your aspirations and goals.

Responsibilities of an Occupational Therapist

As an occupational therapist, your primary responsibility is to evaluate and develop individualized treatment plans for clients with various conditions or disabilities. You will conduct assessments to identify their needs and develop intervention strategies to improve their ability to perform daily activities, regain independence and enhance overall quality of life.

Occupational therapists collaborate with clients, families and healthcare teams to implement therapy techniques, such as adaptive equipment use, environmental modifications and therapeutic exercises. They also provide guidance on self-care tasks, work-related activities and leisure pursuits to promote meaningful engagement in daily life.

Responsibilities of an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants work under the guidance and supervision of occupational therapists to support clients in implementing their treatment plans. They provide hands-on assistance during therapy sessions, teach clients specific exercises or techniques and monitor their progress. Occupational therapy assistants focus on implementing treatment interventions, educating clients on proper techniques and ensuring their safety and comfort during therapy sessions. They collaborate closely with occupational therapists to gather client feedback, adjust treatment plans and document progress.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for occupational therapists in the United States is around $92,800, while occupational therapy assistants earn a median annual wage of approximately $66,280.

However, it is important to note that salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, geographical location, work setting and level of education.

Education Requirements

To become an occupational therapist, a master’s degree in occupational therapy is typically required. The educational program should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

Aspiring occupational therapists must also complete supervised clinical fieldwork and pass a national examination to obtain licensure. Some occupational therapists may pursue additional specialization through postgraduate certifications or doctoral degrees to enhance their expertise and career opportunities.

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate degree from a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)-accredited program. These programs include both academic coursework and hands-on clinical experiences. After completing their education, occupational therapy assistants must pass a national examination and obtain licensure in most states.

Which Occupational Therapy Career Path Should I Pursue?

The decision between becoming an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant depends on various factors, including your interests, career goals and desired level of responsibility. Occupational therapists have a broader scope of practice, involving evaluation, treatment planning and independent decision-making. They may work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to schools, and have opportunities for specialization or research.

Occupational therapy assistants work closely with occupational therapists, providing direct client care and implementing treatment interventions. They often work in healthcare facilities, schools or rehabilitation centers.

If you’re drawn to leadership roles, autonomous decision making and the ability to evaluate and design treatment plans, pursuing a career as an occupational therapist may be the right choice for you. It offers greater opportunities for specialization and higher earning potential.

On the other hand, if you enjoy working collaboratively, providing hands-on assistance during therapy sessions and implementing treatment plans under the guidance of an occupational therapist, a career as an occupational therapy assistant may be a better fit. Earning an associate degree is also much faster and more affordable than pursuing a graduate degree, meaning you can enter the workforce as a professional OTA more quickly and potentially with far less debt.

Although they typically work under the supervision of OTs, occupational therapy assistants have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on lives since they are often the professionals working directly with clients on a day-to-day basis, making it a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant with the St. Louis College of Health Careers

Becoming an occupational therapy assistant is an excellent way to serve others while being an integral part of a patient’s healthcare team, all while earning a rewarding salary.

You don’t need to complete six years (12 semesters) of schooling to become a skilled occupational therapy assistant. By enrolling in a six-semester long OTA program at SLCHC, you can kickstart your educational journey and become a sought-after OTA.

To start your academic journey, call us today at 866-529-2070.

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