Occupational Therapists help people who have problems with their physical or mental health, or learning disabilities. Their aim is to maximise their clients' independence and quality of life, at home and in their working and social lives. They assess needs, and plan and carry out practical arrangements and activities to help people deal with and overcome problems.
Also known as
- Therapist, Occupational
Video: - Cathy: Occupational Therapist
Video: - Shamila: Occupational Therapist
Video: - Sara: Occupational Therapist
As an Occupational Therapist (OT), you will help people to deal with and overcome physical, mental and social problems connected to illness or disability.
'Occupational' here means any way in which people spend their time, including personal care (such as getting dressed, washed and going shopping), work or school, housework and leisure time.
As an Occupational Therapist, you could work with a very wide range of clients, including:
- people who have had accidents
- people recovering from an operation
- older adults, for example, if they are frail, recovering from a stroke or have arthritis
- people with physical or learning disabilities
- people with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression
Your first task will be to assess your client. This will involve carefully looking at the client's physical health and also their mental and emotional well-being.
This assessment helps you to fully understand what the client can and cannot do, their feelings, level of independence and potential ambitions and abilities. You will focus on the positives - what the client can achieve rather than what they are unable to do.
Gradually you can build up a general picture of the client's needs by working with the client, their family or carers, and professionals such as Physiotherapists, Social Workers and Doctors.
Once this picture is complete, you and the client can work together to decide which skills or abilities they need to develop to reach their full potential.
Because occupational therapy is all about meeting clients' needs, it can take place anywhere where people need help, for example, at home, in hospital or at work.
You will visit people in their homes, to advise on changes to household equipment that will make independent living easier and more comfortable. For example, adjusting showers or work surfaces can enable older adults to live at home safely.
You might also arrange for extra support for clients (for example, District Nurse visits and home help services). If someone has had an accident or stroke, they might need to re-learn living skills such as washing themselves and cooking.
Helping the client to feed themselves could include training them to use adapted cutlery that has been designed to be used with one hand, or planning meals together to get the client interested in cooking again.
One of your most important roles will be helping people to return to work, for example, after an operation or period of stress-related absence.
Often, you will be supporting people with mental health problems in their own homes. The client might need therapy for acute anxiety or depression, which could be preventing them from going out to work. You'll help the client to draw up a list of everyday goals, making achievement realistic. The therapy could involve practising work-related skills or developing assertiveness.
Occupational therapy can be one-on-one or with groups. Activities in groups can be good for building communication skills, confidence and social skills.
As an Occupational Therapist, you will take overall responsibility for planning, organising and delivering therapy programmes. You might supervise Occupational Therapy Assistants in supporting the client and arranging activities.
Occupational Therapists work in many areas, including social care, mental health, education and learning disabilities. You can choose to specialise in areas such as substance misuse, hand therapy, eating disorders, children and older people.
Employers include the NHS and local authority social services departments, schools, residential care homes, voluntary organisations, charities, private healthcare companies and equipment manufacturers.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become an Occupational Therapist, you'll need:
- to enjoy working with people, enabling them to reach their full potential
- the ability to inspire confidence, to encourage and persuade
- patience and determination - this can be slow work, and results often don't come easily or quickly
- observational skills, for example, to make initial assessments and to monitor the client's progress
- creativity and adaptability, to plan individual therapy programmes
- sensitivity and tact to work with clients who are nervous, embarrassed or frustrated
- teamwork skills to work alongside other health professionals and people such as parents and Teachers
Pay and Opportunities
NHS employees are paid on a rising scale within defined pay bands, according to their skills and responsibilities. The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting - Band 5: £24,214 - £30,112
- With experience - Band 6: £30,401 - £37,267
- Senior Occupational Therapists - Band 7: £37,570 - £43,772
Hours of work
Occupational Therapists usually work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday, and might be required to be on-call or work in the evening or at weekends. There might be opportunities to work part-time.
Where could I work?
Employers include the NHS, local authority social services departments, schools, residential care homes, voluntary organisations, charities, private healthcare companies and equipment manufacturers.
Opportunities occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
There are opportunities for Occupational Therapists to work independently in private practice.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the NHS Jobs website, in local/national newspapers and on job boards.
Entry Routes and Training
Entry routes and training
The usual route to becoming an Occupational Therapist is through a BSc degree in occupational therapy. Courses usually take three years to complete full-time (four in Scotland).
All courses must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This allows you to apply for registration with the HCPC; registration is essential. Please see the HCPC website for a list of approved courses.
Courses that are also accredited by the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) are recognised by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT), meaning that they are accepted in over 60 countries. You can find a list of accredited courses on the COT website.
You can also qualify through an approved two-year pre-registration postgraduate course. Entry requirements vary between universities. Some specify that you should have at least a 2:1 in your first degree, which might need to be in a subject that is related to occupational therapy, such as biology, psychology or sociology.
Some universities accept graduates with a 2:2 and/or any degree subject. You might also need to demonstrate skills and knowledge gained through some relevant work experience. Please check college/university websites very carefully.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You could choose to specialise, for example, in mental health, paediatrics or stroke recovery. You could also go into a research, management or teaching post.
Previous experience working as a Physiotherapist would be really useful for this career.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
For entry to a degree course in occupational therapy, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 3 A levels. Some universities specify biology, while others ask for any science subject. Psychology and sociology can be other preferred subjects. Some universities don't specify subjects at A level.
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs (A*-C or 9-4), including English and maths
Equivalent qualifications, such as BTEC level 3 and the International Baccalaureate Diploma, might be acceptable for entry - please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications you need to enter a degree in occupational therapy, you might be able to start one after completing a college or university Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to start an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A number of two-year accelerated postgraduate courses are also available.
There are also a number of four-year part-time degree courses. Some of these are in-service courses, for example, for people already working as occupational therapy assistants/assistant practitioners or technical instructors. For others, it doesn't matter if applicants are employed or not.
To get financial support from the NHS, you need to meet certain criteria. If you meet the criteria and are on an approved course (leading to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), you'll get a grant of £1,000 for each year of the course. You can also apply for a means-tested bursary of up to £4,395 each year (or more in London). For more information, see the NHS Business Services Authority website.
Local government vacancies
myjobscotland: Scottish local government vacancies
NHS Wales Careers
Publisher: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare
Step into the NHS
Tel: 0345 6060655
Skills for Health
Skills for the health sector
Address: Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 9221155
University of Ulster
Tel: 028 7012 3456
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
Address: Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 0845 3006184
NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN
Tel: 0131 6563200
Allied Health Professions Support Service (AHPSS)
Address: AHPSS Resource Centre, University of East London, Stratford Campus, Water Lane, Stratford, London E15 4LZ
Tel: 020 8223 4950
NHS Business Services Authority
South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB)
Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT)
Address: 106-114 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LB
Tel: 020 7357 6480
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales