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Working as an Occupational Therapy Technician

What Does an Occupational Therapy Technician Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Duties

Occupational therapy assistants typically do the following:

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment—for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier
  • Record patients’ progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks

Occupational therapy aides typically do the following:

  • Prepare treatment areas, such as setting up therapy equipment
  • Transport patients
  • Clean treatment areas and equipment
  • Help patients with billing and insurance forms
  • Perform clerical tasks, including scheduling appointments and answering telephones

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan for each patient. Activities described in plans range from teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair to advising patients on the best way to stretch their muscles. For example, an occupational therapy assistant might work with injured workers to help them get back into the workforce by teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Occupational therapy assistants also may work with people who have learning disabilities, teaching them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure that patients are doing them correctly. They record the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the occupational therapist so that the therapist can change the treatment plan if the patient is not getting the desired results.

Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment. They may assist patients with moving to and from treatment areas. After a therapy session, aides clean the treatment area, put away equipment, and gather laundry.

Occupational therapy aides also fill out insurance forms and other paperwork and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and monitoring inventory levels.

How To Become an Occupational Therapy Technician

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. They also must be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Education and Training

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In 2014, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a branch of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. In addition to taking coursework, occupational therapy assistants must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on work experience.

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health education. They also can increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist’s office, or a physical therapist’s office.

Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. Training can last from several days to a few weeks and covers a number of topics, including the setting up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Previous work experience in healthcare, as well as certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS), may be helpful in getting a job.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must be able to quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. In addition, aides must pay attention to detail when performing clerical tasks, such as helping a patient fill out an insurance form.  

Flexibility. Assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best type of therapy to use for achieving a patient’s goals.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should be able to communicate clearly with patients and with patients’ families to the extent of their training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nearly all states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed or registered. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Some states have additional requirements.

Occupational therapy assistants must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant” (COTA). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specialty certifications for occupational therapy assistants who want to demonstrate their specialized level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in specialized areas of practice such as low vision or feeding, eating and swallowing.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated.

Advancement

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education and becoming occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist “bridge” education programs are designed to qualify occupational therapy assistants to advance and become therapists.

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Average Salary$30,542
Job Growth Rate31%

Occupational Therapy Technician Career Paths

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Average Salary for an Occupational Therapy Technician

Occupational Therapy Technicians in America make an average salary of $30,542 per year or $15 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $45,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $20,000 per year.
Average Salary
$30,542

Best Paying Cities

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Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Occupational Therapy Technician
Occupational Therapy Technician
Colorado State
Colorado State
11/22/2019
11/22/2019
$36,03611/22/2019
$36,036

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Occupational Therapy Technician Demographics

Gender

female

70.3 %

male

26.6 %

unknown

3.1 %

Ethnicity

White

73.2 %

Black or African American

10.8 %

Hispanic or Latino

9.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

72.7 %

Swahili

9.1 %

Carrier

9.1 %
See More Demographics

Occupational Therapy Technician Education

Majors

Degrees

Bachelors

46.7 %

Associate

19.8 %

Masters

14.2 %

Top Colleges for Occupational Therapy Technicians

1. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

2. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

3. California State University - Bakersfield

Bakersfield, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,309
Enrollment
9,142

4. San Diego State University

San Diego, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,488
Enrollment
30,018

5. SUNY Farmingdale

Farmingdale, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,306
Enrollment
9,394

6. University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Minneapolis, MN • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,760
Enrollment
31,451

7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,094
Enrollment
32,974

8. Howard University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$26,756
Enrollment
6,166

9. SUNY at Buffalo

Buffalo, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,099
Enrollment
21,404

10. Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$3,926
Enrollment
9,835
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Top Skills For an Occupational Therapy Technician

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 18.5% of occupational therapy technicians listed physical therapy services on their resume, but soft skills such as physical strength and compassion are important as well.

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Top Occupational Therapy Technician Employers

1. Physical Therapy Central
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$32,669
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
8+
2. ManpowerGroup
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$28,604
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
3+
3. United States Navy
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$29,848
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
3+
4. Physiotherapy Associates
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$34,055
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
2+
5. McAlester Regional Health Center
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$33,311
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
2+
6. Georgia-Pacific
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$41,649
Occupational Therapy Technicians Hired: 
2+
Updated October 2, 2020