Occupational therapy is about enabling people of all ages - who have physical, mental or social issues - to adapt to any aspect of their life with more confidence and control.
Support workers take a hands-on role with individuals or groups of clients. Working under the supervision of occupational therapists, they promote quality of life and independence, helping to equip clients with the skills needed to take part in everyday activities.
Clients may be referred for a range of reasons, including:
- The effects of ageing
- Physical disability
- Conditions such as arthritis, stroke or Alzheimer's disease
- Accident or injury
- Mental health difficulties
- Alcohol or substance misuse
A support worker's tasks may include:
Occupational therapy support workers work under the supervision of a registered occupational therapist, although there is increasing scope for them to work independently. For example, they may visit clients' homes to assess their needs for adaptations or equipment.
Occupational therapy support workers are part of a team, often based in a hospital department in the community or social services departments.
A variety of job titles - including occupational therapy assistant, technician, instructor and technical instructor - are sometimes used to describe the support worker role. Some support workers help in other disciplines, such as physiotherapy.
Full-time support workers usually work around 37.5 hours a week. It is often possible to find part-time, job-share or flexible working opportunities in this field.
Support workers may work in hospital wards and clinics, health centres, GP surgeries or residential homes. They also work in clients' own homes.
The work may involve lifting, bending, stretching and walking.
Starting salaries may be around £12,000 a year. NHS staff working in or near London receive extra allowances.
Most occupational therapy support workers are employed by the NHS or local authorities (mainly social services departments). Some work for voluntary organisations or the private sector.
Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices, the NHS Jobs website www.jobs.nhs.uk and on the websites of local NHS Trusts and local authorities.
There are no set entry requirements, although GCSE's/S grades are an advantage, particularly for future career progression. There is no minimum age for entry, but maturity is an advantage.
Foundation degrees in subjects such as health and social care can provide a useful background for this type of work. A Foundation degree can lead to the second year of some occupational therapy degree courses (if the individual wants to train as an occupational therapist). The Foundation degree in health and social care is offered by the Open University, as well as by a number of universities and colleges around the country.
An HNC in Occupational Therapy Support is offered at Langside College, Glasgow. The course can be taken full time by people looking for work as occupational therapy support workers. Applicants must have some experience in a care setting.
Young people may be able to enter through cadet schemes or Apprenticeships run at a local level by NHS Trusts.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Employers are likely to require criminal records checks.
Training is generally done on the job, under the supervision of an occupational therapist.
It may be possible to work towards NVQ Level 3 in Health: Allied Health Profession Support or SVQ Level 3 in Health and Social Care.
There may be opportunities for support workers to study part time while working for Foundation degrees in health and social care (alternative course titles include care practice or assisting professional practice). The HNC in Occupational Therapy Support at Langside College, Glasgow, is available on a day-release or distance learning basis for people working in occupational therapy support.
Support workers are able to register as associate members of the British Association of Occupational Therapists. The association publishes a national framework which aims to guide support workers in their continuing education.
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An occupational therapy support worker needs to be:
Occupational therapy support workers can develop their role, increasing in knowledge and skill and progressing to the senior role of assistant practitioner, where they hold considerable responsibility. They can get involved in research and specialise in particular areas of practice.
They can qualify as occupational therapists, studying part time for a degree in occupational therapy while still working as support workers. They can also take full-time degree courses.
British Association/College of Occupational Therapists,
106-114 Borough High Street, Southwark,
London SE1 1LB
Tel: 020 6450 2336
Working in the NHS:
England: NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Scotland: NHS Scotland Careers Information Service
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Wales: Health of Wales Information Service
Skills for Health, 2nd Floor, Goldsmiths House,
Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.