Considering A Career in Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy can offer you a life long career that is challenging, rewarding and diversified. There are many applicants for a limited number of places in Canadian occupational therapy education programs, and because of this it is important that you find out as much as possible about the profession. Contacting the occupational therapy department at your local hospital and/or home care program to arrange a visit is a good place to start.
A day in the life of an occupational therapist
Occupational therapy and occupational therapists
As an occupational therapist you would be part of a health professional group which believes that occupations are essential to life. Occupational therapists believe that occupations describe who you are and how you feel about yourself. If you are unable to do the things you want, or need to do, to live and to enjoy your life, then your general well-being may be affected. Occupational therapists work with people of any age to promote health, prevent disability, and develop or maintain abilities. To learn more, click here to watch a series of videos revealing a day in the life of an occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy provides the skills for the job of living and solves the problems that interfere with peoples ability to do the activities or occupations that are important to them. These problems may be a result of injury, disease, social disadvantage, or the environment. Occupation refers to the activities and tasks of daily life that have value and meaning to a person. Occupations can include self-care (i.e. personal care, mobility), leisure (i.e. social activities, sports) and productivity (play, school, employment, homemaking).
Occupational therapists are specialists in the analysis, adaptation and therapeutic use of occupations, to achieve goals jointly determined by the therapist and the client, in the context of their own home and community. In simple terms, as an occupational therapist you may assist a client to:
- learn new ways of doing things; for example, dress or cook with one arm after a stroke.
- adapt materials or equipment they use; for example, built up pencils and special seating for a child to attend school.
- make changes to their environment; for example, negotiate with an employer for a gradual return-to-work plan following a motor vehicle accident.
Canadian occupational therapists are known worldwide for their client-centred approach. The knowledge, experience and self-determination of the client are valued in the practice of occupational therapy.
Be sure to visit an occupational therapy department or private practice to see first hand how occupational therapists use occupations to help people live fulfilling lives.
Where occupational therapists work
Occupational therapists work in diverse settings:
Home and Community
Home care, private practices, health boards, community mental health centres, clinics, halfway houses, groups homes, vocational programs, community action groups, and workers compensation boards.
Hospitals, intermediate and long term care facilities, rehabilitation centres, nursing homes, mental health centres, correctional institutions, recreation centres, schools, universities and colleges, research centers.
Industry and business
Corporations, rehabilitation companies, insurance companies, and architectural firms.
All levels of government advising in the areas of health promotion, disability prevention/management, accessibility, vocational/health planning and international rehabilitation program development.
Benefits of occupational therapy
Anyone, of any age, can benefit from occupational therapy if they are unable to, or find it difficult to participate in a desired activity. Occupational therapists have training and knowledge in physical and psychosocial development and disorders and therefore look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of the person’s problem. They also look at these problems or risks in terms of how they affect someone’s function. By seeing an occupational therapist, people develop the skills for the job of living so they are able to participate more fully in the life they choose, or to prevent a disruption in their day-to-day living. Occupational therapy benefits the individual and those around them such as teachers, employers, parents, spouses and other family members.
Occupational therapy can help overcome and/or develop strategies to cope with:
- Mobility and seating problems due to developmental disorders, arthritis, a spinal cord injury or simply the aging process.
- Managing pain due to an automobile accident, burns, incorrect lifting, arthritis, repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia.
- Fatigue due to a heart condition, multiple sclerosis, depression, stress, strokes, etc.
- Returning to work after an injury or prolonged illness.
- Relearning and finding new ways to manage home-making activities after a brain injury or acute mental illness.
- Discovering memory aids and other tricks for people who complain of poor memory due to aging, Alzheimer’s, stress, etc.
Occupational therapy can help prevent:
- Unnecessary hospital stays or premature nursing home admissions.
- Work injuries due to poor work station positioning, unrealistic pacing and other organizational and psychosocial strains.
- School dropouts due to poor attention spans, or reading and writing difficulties.
- Unemployment among people with a developmental disability or people with a mental illness.
Required education and knowledge to become an occupational therapist
Required education and knowledge to become an occupational therapist Occupational therapists are university educatedand complete a minimum of 1000 hours of supervised fieldwork experience (on-the-job training). The accreditation standards set by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) accepts the baccalaureate degree in occupational therapy as the minimal educational requirement for entry-level education in Canada. CAOT also supports master's entry-level programs. In choosing among different occupational therapy education programs CAOT recommends that you contact the individual university for admission requirements, course descriptions and curriculum.
You may be interested in reviewing The Profile of Occupational Therapy Practice in Canada (CAOT, 2012), which describes the competencies recommended for the ongoing practice as an occupational therapist in Canada.
Master's level entry information
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Canadian Occupational Therapy Resource Site
School of Physical and Occupational Therapy of McGill University
The School of Physical and Occupational Therapy of McGill University has produced a video entitled “Occupational Therapy: the Faces of Diversity"
Watch the video.