Occupational Therapist

    If you are wondering how to become an occupational therapist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the medical and nursing profession, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Occupational therapists help people to overcome difficulties, which may be a result of physical or mental illness, an accident or the ageing process. They work with clients to maximise their ability to lead full and independent lives and, where possible, prevent disability.

    Occupational therapists often work with clients on a one-to-one basis and adapt treatment programmes to suit each individual’s needs and lifestyle.

    Examples of their work include:

    teaching an older patient recovering from a stroke how to dress themselves
    encouraging someone suffering with depression to take up a hobby
    putting forward suggestions on ways to adapt an office so that an employee injured in a car accident can return to work.
    Occupational therapists’ duties include:

    keeping details of clients’ progress
    considering ways of adapting treatments to make them more effective
    counselling clients, their families and carers
    helping clients adjust to permanent disabilities.
    Some patients have conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, which means they gradually become less mobile and more disabled. Therapists work with these clients to encourage a positive attitude, which can help them to retain activity levels for as long as possible.

    Occupational therapists work as part of a team of professionals including physiotherapists, nurses and social workers. Therapists can specialise in areas such as:

    burns or plastic surgery
    cardiac or stroke rehabilitation
    orthopaedics (spinal injury)
    community disability services
    mental health.
    Occpational therapists can work with patients for months, or for just a few sessions.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good occupational therapists include:

    be creative and adaptable, able to design and develop individual treatment programmes
    have good written and spoken communication skills
    enjoy working with a variety of people and have the ability to form effective relationships quickly
    be patient and determined with a positive attitude, able to encourage clients who are disappointed or frustrated
    be tolerant and sensitive to other people’s priorities and lifestyles
    have a practical approach to problem solving
    have a high level of mental and physical stamina to cope with the demands of a challenging job
    have a sense of humour and a strong desire to help people.

    How to become an occupational therapist
    To become a state registered occupational therapist you need to successfully complete a degree or postgraduate course in occupational therapy, approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC). You will find a list of course providers on the HPC website; check Further Information for details.

    Before you apply for a place on a course it is a good idea to gain some relevant experience or insight into the profession. You can try contacting the occupational therapy unit in your local hospital, nursing home, or other health centre where therapists practise, to check if they can help.

    The entry requirements for a degree in occupational therapy are likely to include:

    five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3)
    two or three A levels/H grades in at least one science subject (biology may be preferred).
    If you do not meet the course entry requirements listed please check with universities because alternatives, such as an Access to Higher Education course, may be accepted. Most degree courses are three years full-time (four years full-time in Scotland), or the part-time equivalent.

    The entry requirements for a postgraduate course are likely to include an honours degree in an area related to occupational therapy (course providers can give you details on acceptable degree subjects), and previous healthcare experience. Many postgraduate courses in this field are two years full-time.

    As an occupational therapy student or graduate, you can join the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT) and the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. The BAOT website includes details of approved course providers; check Further Information for details.

    If you currently work as an occupational therapy support worker, for example, you may be able to qualify as an occupational therapist by completing a four-year in-service course leading to state registration. To follow this route, you will need the support of your employer.

    As an occupational therapy student, you will need to agree to have a criminal records bureau check before you can register with the HPC.

    Training and Development
    As a student/trainee occupational therapist on a HPC approved course, you will study a range of areas including:

    biological and behavioural sciences
    creative programme development
    care management
    therapeutic interventions
    practical and environmental adaptations.
    During training, you will spend time on practical placements, working with clients under the supervision of a qualified therapist. You will learn how to assess and treat patients, and by the end of the course you will be managing a small caseload. You will usually have the opportunity to experience the main branches of occupational therapy, which are:

    physical rehabilitation
    learning disabilities
    mental health
    social care.
    As a qualified occupational therapist, you will be encouraged to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date. The BAOT and the College of Occupational Therapists run workshops and offer other resources that can assist you with the ongoing process of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    A newly qualified occupational therapist can earn between £19,200 and £24,800 a year.
    Team managers and advanced therapists can earn around £36,500.

    Job Prospects
    As an occupational therapist, you will find job opportunities within the NHS and social services.
    With experience, you may be able to progress to senior clinician or head of occupational therapy services in the NHS. There may also be opportunities to move into general health or social services management.

    You may also move into private practice and self-employment, education, or research.

    As an occupational therapist qualified in the UK, you are recognised by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) as meeting the required standard to practise overseas.

    Useful medicine and nursing resources:
    British Association of Occupational Therapists / College of Occupational Therapists
    106-114 Borough High Street
    SE1 1LB
    Tel (Careers Info): 020 7450 2332

    Recent Articles


    Related Stories

    Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox