How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide
Occupational therapy aides help patients with billing and insurance forms.
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
People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health. They can also 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 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 March 2013, there were 162 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. They include classroom instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. Occupational therapy assistants also must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork as part of their education to gain hands-on work experience.
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 weeks to a few months and covers a number of topics, including set up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Prior work experience in healthcare as well as CPR and Basic Life Support (BLS) certifications may be helpful in getting a job.
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 caring 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.
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. They should be friendly and courteous, and they should be able to communicate with patients to the extent of their ability and 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
Most 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 certification.
Occupational therapy aides are not regulated.
Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education to become occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist "bridge" education programs are designed for qualifying occupational therapy assistants to advance to therapists.