Occupational Therapist Job

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What You Need to Know

  1. Occupational therapists work directly with clients, helping them overcome a range of physical and mental difficulties
  2. The work can be challenging but ultimately highly rewarding, particularly if you love helping people and making a real difference to their lives
  3. As an occupational therapist, you may be employed by the National Health Service or you could be employed by a private healthcare provider or you could even work on a freelance basi
  4. To work as an occupational therapist you will either need a degree in occupational therapy or have completed a postgraduate course approved by the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC)
  5. As a newly-qualified occupational therapist, you can expect to earn upwards of £22,000 a year
  6. With experience and as you take on more responsibilities, this can rise steadily to as much as £35,000 a year
  7. Both the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BOAC) and the College of Occupational Therapists run career development courses

What Do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational therapists work directly with clients, helping them overcome a range of physical and mental difficulties and so lead full and independent lives. The work can be challenging but ultimately highly rewarding, particularly if you love helping people and making a real difference to their lives. The job can also be varied, particularly if you work with a variety of clients. Daily responsibilities may include: 

  • Teaching clients with mental issues to carry out everyday tasks such as dressing themselves or shopping for food.
  • Helping a client learn to adapt to life after a serious accident.
  • Working with employers to ensure the needs of disabled workers are properly accommodated.
  • Working with clients suffering from depression or anxiety and encouraging them to engage more fully with the outside world.

As an occupational therapist, you may be employed by the National Health Service or you could be employed by a private healthcare provider or you could even work on a freelance basis. Similarly, while you could work with many different clients on a short-term basis, you could also find yourself helping just a handful of clients for several months or even years.

Qualifications and Skills

In order to work as an occupational therapist you will either need to hold a degree in occupational therapy or have completed a postgraduate course approved by the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).

A number of UK universities offer undergraduate degrees in occupational therapy. As a rule, courses consist of three-to-four years’ of full-time study and you will need at least five good GCSEs and three A-levels to get a place on a course. The HCPC website (http://www.hpc-uk.org/) is a good place to look for universities offering fully-accredited courses.

Alternatively, if you hold a degree – ideally in a related subject such as biology or nursing – you can enter the profession with an accredited postgraduate qualification. Postgraduate courses usually require 12-months full-time study and again details of course providers can be found on the HCPC website.

Alongside academic qualifications, employers will also want to see evidence of the following:

  • A keen interest in occupational therapy, ideally in the form of voluntary work in clinics or shadowing a professional therapist.
  • A patient, caring manner; given the nature of the job, you may often be working with clients who are disappointed or frustrated, so patience and a positive attitude are essential.
  • The ability to be creative and adapt; clients need to be treated as individuals, so you will be required to design and implement special programmes for each of them.
  • A good sense of humour, alongside determination and a real desire to make a difference.
  • A good level of mental and physical stamina.

Training and Development

Once you are qualified, you will have the chance to further develop your professional skills and so boost both your career prospects and your salary.

Both the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BOAC) and the College of Occupational Therapists run regular training courses, seminars, workshops and networking events in a range of subjects, including working with children, working with clients with mental health issues and working with clients with specific conditions such as MS. 

Pay and Benefits

As a newly-qualified occupational therapist, you can expect to earn upwards of £22,000 a year, with salaries slightly higher in London. With experience and as you take on more responsibilities, this can rise steadily to as much as £35,000 a year, while if you take on a senior or management role, you could earn up to £40,000 a year.

However, few people go into occupational therapy for the pay. Alongside the decent salaries, you get the chance to make a real difference to the lives of your clients, with the job being equally challenging and rewarding. Furthermore, career development prospects are always good, particularly if you opt to carry on with your professional development.

Possible Downsides

While the work can be rewarding, it can also be tough. As a therapist, you will often be working with clients who are extremely frustrated and even angry, with some likely to take out their feelings on you. Moreover, the job can require working unsocial hours and often working on your own travelling between clients.

Finding Work

The majority of occupational therapists in the UK are employed by the National Health Service (NHS). Both the NHS and local councils’ social services departments employ both newly-qualified and experienced therapists, with the NHS Jobs (http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/) website and LG Jobs (http://www.lgjobs.com/) excellent places to look for new openings.

Alternatively, if you are keen to work in the private sector, the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BOAT) website (http://www.cot.co.uk/Homepage/) lists job vacancies for both newly-qualified and experienced therapists.

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