What is a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant? (Job Description & Outlook)

What is a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant?

What is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant?

A Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant is someone who treats and helps patients struggling with physical, mental or developmental difficulties. They do so by, implementing treatment plans evaluated and assessed by the Supervising Occupational Therapist (OTR), to strengthen and heal the patient. Looking at the body and mind as a whole system.

“Live Life To the fullest”, AOTA Moto

Job Description

A COTA (Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant) works cohesively under the supervision of an OTR (Registered Occupational Therapist). Together they implement the rehabilitation plan and also actively monitor the patients progress, to ensure they are safe and successful. COTA’s provide feedback to the Occupational therapist, so that they can tweak the treatment plan accordingly. Occupational therapy assistants are also specially trained, to provide modification & adaptation, increasing patient/clients independence & functionality.

  1. Before the COTA treats the patient, the supervising OTR will first perform an initial evaluation, to determine problems to address, also analyzing medical records to build a safe and successful rehabilitation plan. After assessing the required information, the OTR designs goals and a treatment plan for implementation by the Multi-disciplinary Team (COTA,OTR,Nurse,CNA,Social Worker,Caregive/Family).
  2. The rehab team implements treatment plans, helping clients to achieve the highest level of independence as possible, by teaching ADL (Activities of Daily Living) adaptation & retraining techniques.  An Occupational Therapy Assistant also recommends home and job site adaptation/modification for their clients if required.

For Clients with physical disabilities, an OTA provides professional guidance and teach exercises for enhancing the mobility as well as teach them how to use a wheelchair, how to perform specific tasks for their affected muscles and limbs. In case of children with developmental problems, they play with them to promote their socialization, hand-eye coordination, improve their mental capacity, and many other things.

Common Conditions Treated by Occupational Therapy

Although an Occupational Therapy Practitioner may work in any population or variety of settings, these are the most commonly treated ailments & conditions.

  • Neurological CVA/TBI/ETC.
  • Cardiopulmonary Disease/Ailments
  • Orthopedic Rehabilitation
  • Burn Injuries
  • Cognitive Behavioral
  • Developmental
  • Occupational Injury

Average COTA Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the central wage per/annum for Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants was $59,310 as of June 2017. However, depending on the degree and level of certifications an OTA pursues, the salary can increase significantly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also affirms that the job opportunities for Occupational Therapist Assistants are growing at a faster pace comparing to other occupations.

Career Paths & Job Opportunities

An Occupational Therapist Practitioner has lots of flexibility in workplace settings. As such, they can be found anywhere people require rehabilitative assistance physically, mentally, or developmentally.

The most common areas of work for an Occupational Therapy Assistants include:

School Based

Occupational Therapist Assistants are often employed in schools to help children who are going through physical, mental, behavioural and emotional difficulties and imbalances.

They plan and devise specific strategies to help children combat and overcome these issues. Occupational Therapist Assistants also work in relation with Parents, Teachers, and School Administrators to further understand children with problems and help them become successful within their daily roles and enviroment.


Hospitals also employ Occupational Therapy Assistants to help patients overcome medical or mental conditions which require acute care and rehabilitation. They also work hand in hand with doctors and healthcare professionals to help implement and tweak treatment plans for certain medical diseases and conditions.

Outpatient Clinic

COTAS also provide treatment in outpatient environments, where the patient will come to an office or clinic setting to receive rehabilitation. Often utilized for occupational injury, or as long-term followup to a strength/maintenance program.

They prepare and strategise plans performing specific exercises and activities to help them recover quicker, or to help them develop skills to improve their way of living.

Home Health

Home health is often utilized after a patient returns home after surgical procedure, physical/mental ailment, home modification/adaptation. COTA’s play a crucial role in improving patients safety and ability to adapt/overcome in the home environment following difficulty.

Nursing Facility

Nursing homes are the most common place where you can find Occupational Therapist Assistants, and usually pay the highest. In nursing homes, COTA’s work with a wide variety of patients/residents, who need acute care of long-term attention through therapeutic intervention.

COTA’s and OTR’s work closely to devise plans and activities to effectively treat and improve the independence and safety of the the lives of the residents.

Common treatment plans include; Therapeutic Exercises/activities, Neurocognitive, ADL Retraining & Adaptation, Functional W/C Management.

Schools to Become an Occupational Therapist Assistant

To become an Occupational Therapist Assistant you must obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited program by the American Occupational Therapy Association. OTA programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. Subjects such as psychology, kinesiology, biology and health sciences are recommended. Occupational therapy assistants also require certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS). One can increase the chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by including volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as  hospital or a nursing home, an occupational therapists’ office, or healthcare professional.

After a degree program is obtained, they must undergo supervised training under a licensed Occupational Therapist, after which they must pass the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA) Exam. After they clear the COTA exam, they may apply to their state for a license which is the final process to become a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant.

COTA Job Outlook

Besides the lucrative salary options, the enrollment and enlisting of Occupational Therapist Assistants as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics is estimated to grow 30% from 2016-2026, which is faster than most of the other occupations. Occupational therapist assistants are needed to help Occupational therapists as well as other healthcare professionals including doctors and in hospitals and other healthcare homes. With the help of OTAs, the treatment facilities can operate smoothly and efficiently.

Demand for Occupational Therapy Assistants is speculated to grow over the coming decades due to population explosion as well as increased health awareness among the masses. With the increase in life expectancy, people are living longer, and they are more likely to suffer from illness and ailments compared to younger adults. These ailments include heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, paralysis, arthritis etc. These conditions if not treated properly can alter the daily life routine of individuals. As such there arises a need for Occupational Therapy Assistants to help such patients. Therefore the role and importance of an Occupational Therapy Assistant cannot be undermined, and they too form an integral part of the long chain of healthcare professionals and caregivers.


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