People of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive limitations improve their lives and well-being through occupational therapy. Helping people achieve their goals and increase their independence by developing a plan involving specialized activities of daily living is the main job of an occupational therapist.

What an Occupational Therapist Does

Occupational therapy is a form of healthcare intended to aid in patient recovery and improvement by implementing everyday activities in a specialized and planned approach that is developed by occupational therapists.

Some of the tasks occupational therapists will designate in a patient care plan can include: writing, drawing/painting, physical exercises, dining and cooking, dressing, personal hygiene practices, playing with toys, and many other activities. By practicing daily activities in a therapeutic manner, OTs strive for measurable and observable progress that can be recorded.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), while each treatment plan varies depending on the patient and his or her needs, the process generally contains three steps: evaluation, intervention, and outcomes.


An occupational profile is developed in which the summary of a patient’s history, needs, patterns of living, and interests are considered. Then, an analysis of occupational performance is carried out; limitations of a patient are assessed with methods that are set in place to measure and inquire factors that hinder (or support) occupational performance.

From information gathered in this careful evaluation, an occupational therapy intervention plan is developed for the patient.


The three phases of the intervention process are the intervention plan, intervention implementation, and the intervention review. This stage facilitates engagement with everyday (occupational) tasks.

After an intervention plan is developed, the intervention implementation stage is carried out with support from a patient’s families and care partners. After the appropriate time has passed, an intervention review takes place in which therapists collaborate with patients, families, and their care partners to monitor a patient’s progress. Plans are modified as needed in this review.


The end result of the occupational therapy process, outcomes describe what patients have achieved through occupational therapy, and can be used for discharge planning as well. They are established using assessment tools and performance measures.

During each of these processes with patients, occupational therapists will ensure progress and other important measures are documented. This can help ensure the therapy is successful, and that the patient is meeting the right steps with their therapist.

Occupational therapists are employed with hospitals, nursing care facilities, clinics, early intervention programs, schools, pediatrics, and more institutions.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

To become an occupational therapist, you need at least a master’s degree. In the future, doctorate degrees may be required.

You will begin your education by receiving a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline. Undergraduate students are encouraged to take classes that pertain to occupational therapy as well. Some classes in a bachelor’s degree program that may be beneficial to occupational therapists include:

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Health Sciences
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology

Once you receive your bachelor’s degree, you will need either a MSOT (Master of Science in Occupational Therapy), or your OTD (Doctorate of Occupational Therapy). Whether you receive a master’s or doctorate, you must also pass the national certification exam administered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Passing the NBCOT licensing exam is a necessary step to take to become a licensed occupational therapist. Different states may require additional certifications, so be sure to check with your school regarding specific state requirements.

Occupational Therapist Salary and Industry Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that occupational therapists in 2023 earned an average of $96,790, with the top 10 percent making $129,620 or more. The BLS also predicts that demand for occupational therapists will increase significantly at 12 percent by 2031.

If you are interested in patient care, and using your knowledge to better the lives of others, you might enjoy a career as an occupational therapist.

Learn about occupational therapy assisting.