Occupational Therapist | Everything You Need To Know

In the phrase ‘occupational therapy’ the ordinary activities people carry out on a daily basis are referred to as ‘occupations’. They are called that because they occupy people’s time and use their abilities, both physical and mental, during the course of people carrying out the activities of daily life. Occupational therapists, or OTs, know that these ‘occupations’ that people carry out every day are very important for their health and well-being. 

An OT’s patients have typically lost the ability to carry out these daily occupations through disease, injury or other factors that we’ll look at in more detail later. OTs set out to improve people’s skills and capabilities to carry out their daily lives as best they can. OTs help people to overcome the barriers and limitations that stand in the way towards living more fulfilling lives. 


So, What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is one of the health professions in South Africa. An occupational therapist, or OT, is a health professional who helps patients to recover, develop and improve the ordinary skills they need to conduct their daily lives. Often an occupational therapist’s help is needed after the patient has been involved in an accident, or has been ill. Therefore occupational therapists help patients who have lost, or haven’t developed, the abilities needed for daily living. The purpose of occupational therapy is to help people to improve, develop or regain skills that will help them to become more independent in all or many areas of their lives.


What Does An Occupational Therapist Do?

OTs work with people of all ages. Their clients can range from premature babies right through to the frail and elderly. Their patients basically include anybody who, for whatever reason, can’t manage the activities that they want or need to do in their daily lives. This can be as a result of illness, injury, disabilities or other limitations or conditions that prevent them from living normally and doing the things that most people do in the course of their ordinary daily lives. The focus of occupational therapy is to help patients to overcome these barriers or limitations, and improve the skills they need to live their lives.

So there are many exciting career opportunities for trained occupational therapists, and they can work in many different public and private settings. These include hospitals, community clinics, many industries and workplaces, special needs schools, rehabilitation and health centres, people’s homes, old age homes and in their own private practices.


What Does An Occupational Therapist’s Work Involve? 

Typically, when a new patient is referred to an OT, the occupational therapist will review the patient’s medical history and study any records they have. They will also question the patient closely about their situation and condition. Then they will observe them carrying out activities and do tasks to assess and evaluate the patient’s skill levels, coordination, condition and abilities. 

When the OT has a clear idea of the patient’s abilities and needs, they will develop a treatment plan to address those needs. This will normally involve physical exercises to increase the patient’s strength and dexterity, improve their fine motor skills, and improve hand-eye coordination. The OT may also use various activities, like computer programmes, to help patients improve their visual skills, abilities to identify patterns, etc., to improve their memory, problem-solving, decision-making, reasoning, perception and coordination.

An important part of an OT’s job is to educate the patient’s family, caregivers, and often also their employer, about the patient’s requirements and care, and how to accommodate the patient’s abilities or lack thereof. This often involves special equipment like wheelchairs, splints, mobility and eating aids, bathing equipment, devices used in getting dressed, and communication aids.

An important part of the OT’s work is to instruct and train the patient in the use of that equipment. They also need to evaluate and assess the patient on an ongoing basis and record the patient’s progress. The OT also has to report back to the patient’s doctor and any other healthcare providers who may be involved.


It is vitally important that the OT establishes a dynamic, supportive, positive and above all encouraging relationship with their patient. 


What Diseases and/or Conditions Require An Occupational Therapist’s Help? 

Occupational therapy strengthens the muscles and improves fine and gross motor skills which has a range of benefits. Occupational therapy can therefore help with a host of injuries, diseases and conditions that cause impairment of skills, pain and/or disability. 

Here are just some of the conditions that can benefit from occupational therapy:

  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Behavioural issues in children
  • Birth injuries or defects
  • Brain injuries
  • Burns
  • Broken bones and orthopaedic injuries
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic pain
  • Developmental delays in children
  • Diabetes
  • Impaired balance
  • Joint replacements
  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental health 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Poor vision
  • Post-surgical conditions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Strokes


What Will I Study To Become An Occupational Therapist?  

You will receive a broad education in medical, psychological, psychosocial, social, behavioural and occupational sciences. This will provide you with the skills, knowledge and right mindset to work with people as individuals or in groups. Occupational therapy practice focuses on enabling patients to improve the skills they need to overcome restrictions placed on them by injuries, disabilities, diseases or other factors and conditions. 


What Qualifications Will I Need To Work As An OT?

You will need a master’s or a more advanced degree in occupational therapy to be allowed to practice as an occupational therapist. Sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, biology, psychology, and anatomy are all suitable majors for you to focus on in your bachelor’s degree if you want to carry on and get your master’s in occupational therapy. All prospective occupational therapy students, as well as qualified occupational therapists, must be registered with the Interim Medical and Dental Council of South Africa.


What Matric Subjects Do I Need to Study In Occupational Therapy?

The acceptance requirements for acceptance into occupational therapy courses may vary from university to university, so you’ll need to check with each institution as to their specific requirements. However, the following is probably a good general guideline as to what is required: 

  • English as a home language, or first additional language at Level 4
  • Mathematics at Level 4
  • Life Sciences and/or Physical Science at Level 4
  • A good composite score of your matric academic results for five subjects. These would include English, maths, physical science, life science and the best two of any of your other subjects.
  • Your NBT (national benchmark test) scores. Applicants who are in their final year of study towards a bachelor’s degree, or who’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree, don’t have to write the NBT.


Where Can I Enrol For An Occupational Therapy Degree? 

Several universities offer a variety of courses in occupational therapy. These can vary from a Bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy through various levels up to a PhD in the field. Most of the universities are also involved in research in different practice areas and engage with different communities in this regard, which is a benefit to their students. ​​

All the following universities offer occupational therapy qualifications: 

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Degree offered: Bachelor of Occupational Therapy


How Much Does An Occupational Therapist Earn In South Africa?

A good average salary for an occupational therapist in South Africa levels out at about R30,000 per month. This works out to a pretty respectable R185,00 per hour or R360,000 per year. Entry-level positions will generally start off at about R288,000 per year. Experienced practitioners can see their earnings rise much higher! 


Where Can I Get More Information About Occupational Therapy As A Career In South Africa? 

Here are three very useful avenues of research for you can follow:


So if you like helping people a career as an occupational therapist may be an excellent choice for you! 

So, do you have good communication and interpersonal skills? Are you good at problem-solving? Are you organised, good at record-keeping and flexible in your approach to life? Are you strong physically, are you nurturing, and have lots of patience, creativity, compassion and empathy? Are you good at observation, writing and document-keeping? Are you, above all, very good at encouraging people when they get disheartened and discouraged? 


You might be an excellent OT! You’ll not only be helping many people during your working life, but you’ll also be earning a good living for yourself. Above all, you’ll know that you’re doing a very worthwhile and important job.  

Related Posts


How To Apply For A Job With Jumpstart

JumpStart is a skills-development initiative that assists young people in South Africa in finding work. The initiative is part of efforts by a nonprofit organization called MR…

Matric Examination Number

How to Find Matric Examination Number

A matriculation exam is an academic test that students take at the conclusion of their secondary education, usually in order to proceed to postsecondary education. In several…


Boilermaker | Everything You Need To Become A Boilermaker

For power plants and petrochemical facilities, boilermakers produce machineries like boilers, engines, vats, tanks, and pressure vessels. They use metal sheets to construct the designed equipment from…

Welding courses

Welding Courses In South Africa

Welders are skilled workers who can connect metal pieces together. They are also responsible for strengthening earlier welding projects and filling and mending holes in metal structures….

Carpentry courses

Carpentry courses in South Africa

Do you enjoy using wood to make or create things? Do you pay attention to detail and value accuracy in your work? Then you might be a…

Plumbing courses

Plumbing courses in South Africa

For people who prefer working with their hands, enjoy being their own boss, and aren’t frightened of arduous work and irregular hours, plumbing is a fantastic career…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *