Occupational Therapist Skills: Definition And Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Occupational therapy is a social and healthcare profession concerned with working with people of all ages who might suffer from mental and physical health problems that prevent them from performing day-to-day activities. These professionals might assist various challenges of patients and help them live independent and fulfilling life. Like many other professions, it has its own unique set of challenges requiring various skills that can help you excel in this job role.

In this article, we discuss what occupational therapist skills are, explore some examples, learn how to improve them and discover how to highlight them in your cover letter, resume and during the job interview.

What are occupational therapist skills?

Occupational therapist skills are the abilities that help an occupational therapist meet patients' social, environmental, psychological and physical needs. They require these skills to work with patients suffering from illness, injuries and accidents that alter their abilities and level of independence. These professionals require soft and hard skills to support their clients in formulating treatment plans and meeting health goals for their unique circumstances.

An occupational therapist uses their skill set to help patients recover, grow and strengthen the skills required for performing day-to-day operations. Whether you work with children, young adults, infants or seniors, you require specialised skills to excel in your job role.

Examples of occupational therapist skills

Here are some common skills required to become an occupational therapist:

Organisation

Employers and patients both prefer organised and punctual occupational therapists. Usually, patients rely on the organisation skills of an occupational therapist to ensure accurate documentation and treatment course for faster recovery. Being organised help these professionals develop a structured treatment schedule. As they book appointments with patients, this skill set helps to ensure that they attend to as many patients as possible without overwhelming their work schedule. When working in a clinical setting, they coordinate their appointments with other occupational therapists without disrupting the workflow of others.

Problem-solving skills

These are professionals who create individualised treatment plans and recovery strategies for their patients. Their therapy might vary depending upon the patient. An occupational therapist needs problem-solving skills to develop strategies appropriate for their patient's health issues. As these professionals evaluate their patient's issues or physical challenges, they might ask about their medical histories and consider their home environment to create effective treatment plans. Also, they might search for facts and think critically about the patient's situation before finding a viable solution to their problem.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions And Examples

Nurturing skills

Another essential skill that occupational therapist requires to excel in their job is nurturing. Employers and patients expect occupational therapists who are passionate about enhancing the lives of others. Nurturing skills help these professionals nurse, nourish and promote growth. The ability to listen well to what patients are saying and offer encouragement to them are a few essential elements of nurturing skills. As they might work with various patients, they require the ability to change from nurturing one person to another.

Communication skills

An occupational therapist requires excellent communication skills to explain the task, procedures and treatment plans when working with patients. Often, they use their verbal communication skills to translate complex medical terms into simpler ones so that patients can understand the treatment plan. They require excellent communication skills to work with doctors, nurses and other occupational therapists. As occupational therapists first understand the patient's need and ailment, they require the ability to listen to others actively.

Also, employers expect an occupational therapist to have good written communication skills for keeping detailed notes and records explaining the patient's progress and treatment plan. You also might write reports to share with other medical professionals.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions And Examples

Physical strength

An occupational therapist might provide physical support to patients suffering from injuries. For this reason, employers prefer candidates who can provide physical strength. These professionals might use physiotherapy techniques to treat patients, making physical strength an essential skill for this job role. A part of their workday involves serving a patient throughout the day and helping them walk from one place to another.

Empathy

To be a good occupational therapist, having empathy towards the patients is essential. Patients expect an occupational therapist to learn and understand their background before starting the treatment plan. This helps them view injuries and ailments from the patient's perspective. Avoiding judgment and negative remarks is essential to make the patient feel welcomed and accepted.

Patience

An occupational therapist might encounter situations where a patient's progress is slow and painful. Often, they might feel overwhelmed, depressed and frustrated, making it essential for these professionals to show excellent patience. Showing patience allows these professionals to handle patients who display intense emotions during treatment. Different individuals recover in varying spaces. While some might improve their condition within a week, others might work with a therapist for several months together.

Time management

Typically, a therapist allocates a specific amount of time for a single therapy, making time management essential for ensuring the timely completion of the treatment. This means that these professionals cannot waste too much time on a single patient because it might cause inconvenience to others and might delay their healing process. To become an effective therapist, ensure to stick to a schedule and convey any changes to the patients.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition And Examples

How to improve your occupational therapist abilities

To become successful in your career, focus on constantly improving your therapist skills. Some ways to improve these skills include:

1. Complete a certification or training

As a therapist, you can pursue a variety of certifications that can help you treat patients suffering from various ailments. Some common certifications to pursue are:

  • Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

  • Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)

  • Neuro-Development Treatment Certification (C/NDT)

2. Build a professional network

Consider building a professional network and joining groups that have other occupational therapists. Becoming a member of these professional organisations might help you attend medical conferences. You can, later on, consult your network people for mentorship to enhance your therapist skills. The community might provide you with tips for excelling in the job role.

3. Advance your education

Invest in advancing your education. Choose degree programmes and courses that can help improve your therapist's skills. Spend some time learning new therapy techniques. These courses might help you provide the best treatment plans for the individual.

4. Stay current with development in your field

The field of therapy is constantly developing, which results in the invention of new treatment techniques and plans. To become an excellent therapist, stay current with the latest development in your field. This ensures you always provide the best treatment plan to your patients.

Therapist skills in the workplace

An occupational therapist might have several opportunities to develop and enhance their professional skills. Consider improving your skills using these tips:

  • Set goals. Focus on setting personal goals to track your progress and ensure you continuously improve your skill set.

  • Highlight your flexibility in challenging situations. Affirm your ability to compromise and collaborate with others and implement solutions that support the wellbeing of patients and ensure a faster recovery.

  • Document your progress. Start by taking notes and writing your progress and new things you learn on the job. It can help you remember and recollect information for future use.

How to highlight therapist skills

Use these steps to highlight your skills:

1. For resumes

Be honest about the skills you have. When highlighting your therapist skills on your resume, include those skills you feel the most confident. You can include these skills in a separate skill section or make them a part of your job responsibilities. Consider referencing the job description and including skills the employers want in their candidate. This makes your resume applicant tracking system (ATS) compliant and increases your chances of being shortlisted.

2. For cover letters

Use your cover letter as an opportunity to explain your unique skills and competencies thoroughly. When writing your cover letter, explain a brief story about your therapist skills and how these skills help you complete job-specific duties. If any of your skills align with the company's policies, write about them in your cover letter.

3. For job interviews

During a job interview, discuss your occupational therapist abilities and use specific examples to show your skills. Prepare for frequently asked questions about skills and how they helped you excel in previous job roles. For instance, if you mentioned excellent communication skills, ensure you speak clearly and confidently.

Explore more articles