How To Become An Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide

Have you thought about entering the healthcare field but are unsure in what capacity would be a good fit for you? If so, check out our guide to becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide.

Every day, we all take for granted simple tasks, such as cooking breakfast, brushing our teeth, and going on about our business. Unfortunately, many are not that fortunate due to physical disabilities, accidents, or illness. Through Occupational Therapy, you can help someone become independent again.

In this choice of career, there are several levels to consider, such as: 

  • Occupational Therapy Aide
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Occupational Therapist

All positions can be obtained through varying levels of education. Check it out today! 

Related Article: 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education

Table of Contents


What does an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide do?

The Occupational Therapy Assistant and Aide are both focused on helping the patient recover or improve their skills used in everyday life. The two positions are similar; however, each has the following responsibilities: 

Occupational Therapy Assistant

  • Works closely with Occupational Therapists to design a therapy program for the patient, 
  • Assists with stretches and exercises,
  • Teaches patients how to navigate everyday chores, according to their abilities,
  • Monitors patient’s activities and progress, 
  • Demonstrates how to use exercise equipment,
  • Performs administrative tasks, keeping patient records.

Occupational Therapy Aide

  • Aides provide support to the Assistant, 
  • Transports patients as needed,
  • Cleans and sets up therapy equipment for each patient, 
  • Does laundry, monitors inventory supplies,
  • Handles clerical tasks, such as answering phones, making appointments, and filing insurance claims.

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides must have a heart for helping others, as they will work with young children and the elderly, and all ages in between. Also, they work with patients from all walks of life, such as those born with disabilities, those who have had debilitating accidents, and people who have an illness or are afflicted by a terrible disease. 

How do I become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

To become an Occupational Therapy Assistant, you will need an associate degree. Programs are easily found at community colleges or trade schools. Your program will need to be properly accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education

How do I become an Occupational Therapy Aide?

To become an Occupational Therapy Aide, you will need a high school or equivalent diploma and on-the-job training by an experienced therapist or assistant.

How long will it take to become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

An associate degree in this field will take up to two years to complete. In addition, you will be required to complete fieldwork lasting up to at least 16 weeks.

What will I learn in an Associate of Occupational Therapy Assistant degree program?

Generally, coursework will include topics, such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Patient Assessment
  • Assistive Technology
  • Biology
  • Physical Disabilities
  • Pediatric Health
  • Medical Terminology
  • Healthcare Fundamentals
  • And, much more! 

Both assistant and aide jobs in this field will require CPR and Basic Life Support (BLS) certification.

What do I need to do to become an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists must have a master’s degree and a license to practice. They earn approximately $86,280 annually, with the highest 10% earning $122,670 per year, according to the BLS

As an assistant, you may locate a “bridge” program that will allow you to advance to therapist status. 

How much do Occupational Therapy Assistants earn?

As of May 2020, the BLS states that the average annual salary for an Occupational Therapy Assistant was $62,940, with the highest 10% earning upwards of $84,090 or more per year. 

How much does an Occupational Therapy Aide earn?

According to the BLS, Occupational Therapy Aides earned a salary of $30,180 per year as of May 2020. The highest 10% made upwards of $58,800 annually, depending on experience. 

Is there a demand for Occupational Therapy Assistants or Aides?

There is an expected 34% job growth rate for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides over the next ten years, adding approximately 8,800 new jobs per year to the workforce, according to the BLS. These opportunities are due in part to health issues that tend to plague the aging population. 

How much do Occupational Therapists earn in comparison to becoming an Assistant?

If you decide to advance in your career and become a fully-licensed Occupational Therapist with a master’s degree, naturally, you would expect an exorbitant pay raise, right? After all, the costs incurred in getting your degree needs to bring you an excellent return on your investment.

So, you decide if it’s worth it… The BLS states, as of May 2020, licensed Occupational Therapists earned $85,280 annually on average, with the highest 10% earning upwards of $122,670 yearly.

Will I need a license?

The field of Occupational Therapy is well regulated. To become licensed as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA), you will need to receive your training from an accredited training facility, complete the fieldwork and pass the exam provided by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Continued education is a must as well.

State laws do not regulate Occupational Therapy Aides; therefore, certification is not required.

If you would like to showcase your expertise in a particular area, such as in eating and swallowing, or for those who are vision-impaired, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers specialty certifications.  

Is being an Occupational Therapy Assistant a hard job?

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides often suffer injuries due to the physical demands of the job. Prepare to spend a lot of time on your feet with wear and tear on the knees and back from the heavy lifting of patients.

Although physically demanding, OT is considered one of the less mentally stressful jobs within healthcare. 

What sort of patients will I work with as an OTA?

The type of patients you will work with may depend on your employer, for some clinics focus on a specific demographic, such as children or geriatric patients.

In addition, you will work with people who have physical disabilities or debilitating illnesses. They typically need assistance with sharpening their sensory-motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, and cognitive skills. 

Often, patients need help learning how to cook, feed themselves, bathe, get dressed, and possibly drive.