Rehabilitation Therapist Education Requirements

Professionals in the rehabilitation therapy field require both formal education and certification. Continue reading for an overview of these education options, as well as career options for graduates.

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Physical therapists, occupational therapists and substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors are all considered rehabilitation therapists. The educational requirements for these careers vary, with substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors needing a bachelor's or master's degree, while physical therapists are required to have a doctoral degree.

Essential Information

Before being allowed to legally practice, rehabilitation therapists must first complete several stages of education and training. Aspiring therapists can earn a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as kinesiology or health sciences, before going on to graduate school. Students in graduate school often pursue a specialized form of rehabilitation therapy, including physical, occupational, and drug rehabilitation therapy. Becoming a rehabilitation therapist often requires a master's degree and state licensure, as well as additional certifications, depending on the chosen specialization.

Career Physical Therapist Occupational Therapist Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Required Education Doctoral of Physical Therapy (DPT) Master's degree (usually in occupational therapy) Bachelor's degree; master's degree sometimes required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 34% 27% 22%
Median Salary (2015)* $84,020 $80,150 $39,980

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Graduates of a rehabilitation therapy program have several choices when it comes to career paths. Examples of careers commonly chosen include physical therapist, drug rehabilitation therapist, and occupational therapist. Each of these careers features unique training and duties, as well as licensure and certification requirements.

Physical Therapist Education Requirements

Working with patients who have movement disabilities, physical therapists diagnose, treat and prevent a variety of functional problems. They deal with issues that include, but aren't limited to, arthritis, amputations, and strokes, as well as neck, back, sports and work injuries. A master's degree program in physical therapy takes 2-3 years to complete. The curriculum typically covers neurology, pharmacology and musculoskeletal disorders, among other topics. Students complete a certain amount of clinical hours through internships and hands-on experiences.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Aspiring physical therapists need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE), administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy Graduate programs prepare them for the test, but graduates must also get a license in the state they wish to practice in. Requirements for the license differ from state to state, but generally include a holding master's degree, passing the NPTE and completing additional exams. Keeping licensure frequently involves completing continuing education credits.

Occupational Therapist Education Requirements

Occupational therapists help emotionally, physically, developmentally or mentally disabled patients regain motor skills and function in daily, independent living. Their duties may involve helping patients learn to dress, clean and feed themselves. The educational requirements for occupational therapists are similar to those for physical therapists. Individuals go through a 4-year undergraduate program before continuing on to get their master's degree in occupational therapy. Students put in a set amount of observation and internship hours, as well as learn about such topics as pathology, gerontology and child development.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

All states require that occupational therapists complete a graduate program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Such programs prepare them to sit for the certifying exam. In addition to passing this national certification test, graduates must meet all the requirements in their state. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy offers a voluntary certification leading to the Occupational Therapist Registered designation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that this certification qualifies in some states for licensure, while others use their own exam.

Drug Rehabilitation Therapist Education Requirements

Drug rehabilitation therapists, also known as substance abuse counselors, work with drug and alcohol addicts in their recovery process to overcome addictions. Counseling and support may be offered in group or individual therapy. Master's degree programs in substance abuse counseling can prepare future drug rehabilitation therapists for work. Students participate in fieldwork and internships, and they study treatment and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse. They learn about diagnosis and treatment methods for rehabilitation and counseling.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

States have their own requirements for individuals to meet and qualify as a drug rehabilitation therapist. Previous education and work experience in substance abuse counseling help applicants take state licensing exams.

In addition to the required degrees in their field, physical therapists, occupational therapist and substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors are all required to meet their state's licensing and certification requirements. Rehabilitation therapists play a crucial role in helping their patients address issues that are affecting them physically and emotionally. While physical and occupational therapists implement plans to help restore function and mobility for their patients, substance abuse counselors assist patients recovering from addiction.

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