Occupational Therapy Assistant Guide

Welcome to the OTA Guide, the complete occupational therapy assistant resource. Here you will find all the info you need to complete your occupational therapy education and get licensed as an OTA in your state. Get started with our free state by state OTA resources on: OTA Schools, OTA Licensing,OTA salary data.
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What is an OTA/COTA or Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant?

What is an OTA or COTA

Now is probably a good time for us to go ahead and answer the quite frequently asked question, “What is an OTA? or COTA?”.

You may be surprised to hear that Occupational Therapy and Occupational Therapist Assistants aren’t extremely well known or mainstream, yet. When compared to very similar professions like Physical Therapy or Certified Nursing for example.

I consider this a good thing, it means more opportunity for those currently in the field or entering the field now while it is still growing substantially.

I digress. Back to the question at hand: What is an OTA/COTA?

First, a quick distinction on the “C” when answering what is an occupational therapy assistant.

An OTA or COTA is the assistant to an Occupational Therapist. The “C” simply stands for “certified” and means that the OTA has taken extra steps in addition to holding their state license as an OTA, to also being certified by the National Board of Certified Occupational Therapists (NBCOT).

This “C” distinction is similar to how an Occupational Therapist, or OT, is also called a OTR/L where the R = Registered and L = Licensed.

So, OTAs are educated at an accredited OTA program and then take the necessary steps to obtain their state OTA license. Where COTA professionals take one additional step and get certified with the NBCOT.

But that doesn’t fully answer the question, what is an OTA. Aside from assisting an OT, what does that really mean or look like in the real world.

Well, first of all let’s answer a little sub question to then go into more detail on the main question, that question is “Where do occupational therapy assistants work?”

Where an OTA/COTA Might Work

Occupational Therapy Assistant Working in Nursing Home Helps Alzheimer's Patient

Here an OTA working in a nursing home assists an alzheimer’s patient on their walk.

Although Occupational Therapy Assistants work in many different places, there are 3 main places you can find them.

Most commonly, OTAs work in:

  • hospitals
  • nursing care facilities
  • patient’s homes

There are also traveling OTAs that serve patients all over the country at various locations.

The reason OTAs work in these places is because their patients are generally, pediatric, geriatric, or someone with a debilitating health condition that requires day to day assistance.

What Does an OTA Do?

Ok, so back to answering what is an OTA. And this time in more detail than just the fact that they are an assistant to the OT. What does an OTA do on a day to day basis for their patients.

An OTA is someone who works with young, old, or disabled people to help them through their day to day activities. They perform activities or “occupations” with their patients to help them maintain, develop, and progress fine motor skills or mental skills that the patient is lacking for any number of reasons.

Often referred to as Occupational Therapy Interventions, or OT Services, here are the most common activities performed by OTs:

  • Assisting disabled kids fully participate socially and in their education at school
  • Assisting trauma or injury victims recover by regaining cognitive ability and other life skills
  • Assisting elderly that experience various mental, physical, and cognitive disabilities such as dimension or alzheimers.
  • Unique and individual evaluations of patients including their family to help determine goals of the Occupational Therapy Interventions.
  • Implementation of the custom evaluation plan to help the patient improve their ability to perform their daily activities and meet the plan goals.
  • Monitoring the outcomes and making adjustments to the therapy plan as needed to ensure goals are met.

Keep in mind these are just the main occupational therapy assistant interventions. OTs and OTAs work in a wide range of industries for many different types of patients. So, this list could get much longer.

But generally, now you know what an OTA/COTA is by definition. You also know where they work and what they do in the real world.

Quick Recap: What is an Occupational Therapist Assistant?

Here is a quick summary of what an OTA is:

  • Definition: Assistant to an OT. The “C” just means the OTA took an extra step to get certified with the NBCOT.
  • Where: OTA/COTA professionals most often work in hospital, nursing care facilities, and at patient’s homes
  • What: OTA/COTA professionals are helping young, old, or disabled people regain skills or assisting them with their daily activities.

If a career as an OTA sounds good to you then checkout the requirements to become a COTA as well as our 7 step guide to becoming an OTA.

We tried to give a broad overview, but we welcome OTAs in the community to comment and share their experiences as Occupational Therapy Assistants 🙂

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  1. I am pretty sure states require completion of the NBCOT exam prior to providing licensure; Therefore, an OTA would have to be certified (COTA) before receiving a license. That would mean a person could not practice as an OTA, only a COTA.

    • That is right, Steve. Great point. Also worth noting that many, but not all, states allow practitioners to practice on a temporary license or limited permit while waiting to take or receive the results of the certification exam.

      Also, this article was written as an intro into the field for people who are curious about the OTA profession. The article didn’t distinguish between OTA vs “C”OTA requirements. So, thank you for the helpful insight!


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