Health Care Careers - Occupational therapist


Substance abuse counselors focus on counseling people with alcohol and drug addictions. These counselors evaluate their patients' conditions, devise treatment programs with the help of other medical professionals, and counsel their patients in individual or group therapy sessions. Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is a lifelong struggle that may have periods of relapse; therefore, substance abuse counselors must have compassion and patience. They may work in private practice or at drug rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or government agencies.

These counselors have strong knowledge of drugs and their effects on the human body, both mentally and physically. They are trained in the characteristics of drug and alcohol addiction. Infact, some substance abuse counselors have firsthand knowledge of the destructive effects of the drugs and the difficulties of recovery because they are former addicts themselves.

Training to Be a Substance Abuse Counselor

A master's degree is not required to become a substance abuse counselor, but it is preferred. Certification is available, which is recommended since most employers will only hire certified substance abuse counselors. Standards for certification usually include supervised practical experience as a substance abuse counselor for two years, two- to three-hundred training hours, a case presentation, and an examination. A Master Addictions Counselor (MAC), which is the highest level of certification in this field, must have a master's degree, three years' practical experience, five hundred training hours, and an examination.

Having a disabling condition, such as arthritis, paralysis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or mental illness, can mean having to learn or relearn how to perform routine activities for daily living and working. Occupational therapists, or registered occupational therapists (O.T.R.), help patients suffering from these conditions set and reach goals for accomplishing activities such as eating, dressing, and writing. Occupational therapists also design and make special devices that help patients adapt to their home and work space and communicate with others more effectively. A major goal of occupational therapy is to have the patient become more independent. Occupational therapists also strive to improve the patient's quality of life.

Some techniques employed by occupational therapists include physical or mental exercises and the use of computer programs that help improve a patient's problem-solving, decision-making, and memory skills. For example, if a patient suffers from memory loss, an occupational therapist will instruct the patient in exercises that work to improve memory and prevent forgetfulness. An important part of treatment is patient participation. Patients are expected to use what they learn in therapy in real life. Many activities, then, are planned that require the active participation of the patient. In creating and using various techniques, occupational therapists must be imaginative and have a great deal of patience.

Occupational therapists work with other health care professionals on the rehabilitation of a patient. Rehabilitation is the general name given to training and therapy techniques designed to help a person return to normal daily activities. A physician heads the rehabilitation process of the patient and refers the patient to an occupational therapist. The occupational therapist evaluates patients, plans treatment programs with reachable goals for them, and monitors their progress.

Work settings for occupational therapists can vary from hospitals to schools or rehabilitation centers to the homes of their patients. Some may choose to work specifically with children or with the elderly. Others may work primarily with mentally ill patients or with patients with specific physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy. Occupational therapists who specifically help patients with workplace needs are called industrial therapists. Occupational therapists may also teach or conduct research.

Occupational therapists work with occupational therapy assistants, or certified occupational therapy assistants (C.O.T.A.), who aid in the treatment of the patients. Occupational therapy assistants do not evaluate patients, but they do administer the treatments devised by occupational therapists and document the patients' progress.

Training to Be an Occupational Therapist

To become an occupational therapist, a person may acquire a bachelor's or master's degree in occupational therapy or, a person with a bachelor's degree in another field may also enter a post-bachelor's certificate program in occupational therapy. During a program, a student studies behavioral, biological, and physical sciences as well as completing practical experience in the field. Occupational therapy programs receive accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

In order to practice, an occupational therapist must be licensed. Candidates who successfully complete an accredited occupational therapy program may take a national certification examination given by the American Occupational Therapy Certification Board. After passing the exam, they become registered occupational therapists. Continuing education is necessary for all occupational therapists to keep on top of the latest advancements in the field.

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