7 Occupational Therapy Skills You Need to Know

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Occupational therapists work with clients from all walks of life to aid in their treatment and recovery. The skills of an occupational therapist are key to providing a safe, comfortable and successful experience. Effective occupational therapy teams can help people perform everyday tasks, recover from an accident or injury, and maintain their independence.

The position of occupational therapy assistant (OTA) requires an expansive list of skills, all of which you can learn through St. Catherine’s Online OTA program. Our curriculum equips students with a top-quality education so they can begin their OTA career in as few as 16 months.

Before getting started, it’s helpful to know what occupational therapy skills will help you be successful. We created a list of seven skills you’ll need to change lives through occupational therapy.

1. Creative Problem-Solving

Occupational therapists create customized treatment plans and implement them using specific strategies for each clients. Because each client is different, problem-solving skills are imperative to successfully implement a treatment plan that is doable for the client in light of any issues or physical challenges. As the saying goes, even the best-laid plans can go awry, so it’s crucial to be able to think on your feet and adapt a treatment plan when problems arise.

2. Communication Skills

If you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, you’ve probably experienced a bit of stress due to the technical terms, medial jargon or extensive discharge instructions. In any healthcare situation, this can be mitigated by clearly explaining the process in layman’s terms. Occupational therapy is no exception.

Occupational therapists must have communication skills to be able to relay medical information in a digestible way. They also work with OTAs to communicate implementation of the treatment plan and may work with other colleagues like physical therapists, doctors, employers and others, so they need to be able to communicate effectively in any situation.

OT student sitting at desk with elderly woman filling a pill divider

3. Ability to Support and Encourage

Getting care is a vulnerable experience for clients. Needing assistance for tasks one used to be able to do on their own can be a challenge both mentally and physically. Occupational therapists can help their patients overcome this by being a source of support, encouragement and education.

Cheering on your clients and showing that you are invested in their success can make all the difference. Having the skills to show that you genuinely believe in them and you’re supporting them in their journey is the mark of a great OT.

4. Physical Strength

In addition to emotional support, occupational therapists sometimes need to be able to provide physical support. OTs will assist a client by helping them during functional mobility to get in and out of a bathtub as part of their daily routine. Some settings that OTs work in, may involve handling of durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, tub benches, or a commode, in which they may need to transport them to a client’s room to help them with their daily activities.

5. Organizational Skills

Occupational therapists must keep track of many forms of documentation, including:

  • Insurance forms
  • Schedules
  • Records and charts
  • Treatment plans

Organizational skills are particularly helpful to an OT who coordinates with other therapists in a clinical setting. Having a clear and organized work style can be instrumental when coordinating appointments and making a cohesive schedule.

6. Empathy and Patience

As an occupational therapist, you’ll often see people while they are vulnerable. Acting with empathy and compassion is the best way to show them respect and build trust.

Treatment for clients can sometimes include situations that are challenging or emotional. This can often bring up feelings of frustration in clients or make them feel overwhelmed or burnt out. As an occupational therapist, it’s imperative that you help them work through these obstacles with patience and grace.

Clients come from all walks of life, and as such, they progress on different timelines. Giving your client the room to work through these situations without feeling rushed or embarrassed can be incredibly beneficial to their progress.

Woman assisting elderly woman with a puzzle

7. Flexibility

Occupational therapists need to be flexible with moving appointment times around and adaptable enough to work with seniors, children and everything in between all in one day. Managing your days with fluidity is something every occupational therapist has to master.

Sometimes, your duties may take you to a school, business, healthcare facility or home. Adaptation to your setting is helpful in this role, as is having a flexible schedule when clients need to switch appointments because of pain or a scheduling conflict.

Why Are Occupational Therapist Skills Important?

Put simply, skills of an occupational therapist are important because they help OTs provide the best possible care for their patients.

Each of these seven skills support occupational therapists’ efforts to assist their clients with day-to-day tasks and help them navigate physical or mental challenges in a variety of settings including:

  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools
  • Employers
  • Homes
  • Private practices

Occupational therapist skills affect many important OT duties, including:

  • Evaluating patients' conditions by monitoring them during tasks and communicating with them about how they feel
  • Exercising and demonstrating physiotherapy procedures
  • Recommending equipment depending on the needs of patients and training them how to use the equipment
  • Keeping track of patients' activities and monitoring their progress

If you have any of the skills we discussed or if you’re interested in developing them on your journey toward becoming an OTA, we can help.

Earn Your OTA Degree from St. Catherine in as Few as 16 Months

If you’re considering becoming an occupational therapy assistant, you owe it to yourself to talk to an admissions counselor from the St. Catherine University Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. As the first university in the nation to offer an occupational therapy assistant program, we set the standard by which all OTA programs are judged.

With St. Catherine’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program, you can be an occupational therapy assistant in as few as 16 months.

Reach out to an admissions counselor to discover whether our program is right for you.

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The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained