When someone has had an accident, suffered from an illness or undergone surgery, they often need help with their recovery. Rehabilitation therapists and therapist assistants offer support to people who need assistance getting their lives, and their health, back to where it once was. These professionals can work in a number of settings, including rehabilitation facilities, schools, independent living centers and private practices.
Rehabilitation therapy specializations
Rehabilitation therapy schools give professionals the expertise they need to help someone recover from an injury. There are a number of different specialties within the field, including:
- Massage therapy: These professionals use soft tissue manipulation to help clients recover from injuries, receive relief from pain, relax, and enjoy a feeling of wellness. Modalities include deep tissue, Swedish, trigger point, shiatsu and more.
- Physical therapy: When someone has gone through a serious illness or had an accident, sometimes they need physical therapy to help them manage their pain and improve their mobility. This is done by reviewing a patient's medical history, observing how they stand and walk, and creating and implementing an exercise plan to help them regain their physical strength.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy helps patients with their everyday activities after they have been injured or suffered from an illness or disability. OT professionals work to evaluate a patient's needs -- which can include different kinds of physical activities as well as special equipment -- and create and implement an appropriate rehabilitation plan. In addition, OTs and their assistants work with a patient's family to teach them how to best care for their loved one.
Rehabilitation therapy certifications and degrees
According to the BLS, those who pursue some careers as rehabilitation therapists are may be required to earn a graduate-level degree in order to find employment. Those who wish to become occupational therapists must earn a master's degree. In order to become a physical therapist, professionals must earn a doctorate in physical therapy. There are several rehabilitation therapy professions, however, which require an associate degree or less.
Massage therapists are typically required to complete a post-secondary program in massage therapy, consisting of at least 500 hours of study and practice. Students study anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, physiology and more. Almost all states regulate massage therapy either at the state or local level, though licensure isn't required in all jurisdictions. For states that do require licensure or certification, students may be required to pass a state-administered test, the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).
Physical therapy assistants are required in most states to successfully complete a two-year physical therapist assistant program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. These programs typically consist of clinical and classroom study and should include classes in anatomy and physiology, psychology and CPR. Licensure is granted after successful completion of a PT assistant program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Occupational therapy assistants are typically required to complete an associate degree program in OT assisting accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. They are also required to complete clinical study and courses in the program may include those in psychology, neurology and biology.
OT and PT aides are typically required to have a high school diploma or equivalency, and are often trained on-the-job, though education and training for these careers are available at some schools. Licensing is not usually required for these positions.
Rehabilitation therapy salary and career outlook
According to the BLS, the rehabilitation field will grow in the coming years, with each specialty experiencing an increase in jobs between 2012 and 2022. Growth is as follows for some of these key rehabilitation careers:
- Massage therapists: 23 percent
- Physical therapy assistants and aides: 41 percent
- Occupational therapy assistants and aides: 41 percent
Some states have a higher concentration of these positions than others. For example, West Virginia and Alabama have the highest concentration of jobs for PT assistants, while the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania have the highest concentration of OT assistants.
The salaries for the different rehabilitation therapy specialties differ, according to the BLS. As of May 2013, the agency reports:
- Massage therapists earn a national median annual salary of $35,920
- Occupational therapy assistants earn a national median annual salary of $55,270
- Physical therapy assistants earn a national median annual salary of $53,360
Thanks to factors like the recent laws that have given more people access to health insurance, the increased aging population, and the amount of wounded veterans, there is a growing need for rehabilitation therapists of all kinds. These professionals are an integral part of patients' recovery from injuries and illness, and their role in the health care system is only getting larger.
Career: Occupational Therapists, College Board, Accessed October 25, 2014, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-diagnosis-treatment-occupational-therapists
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