Where to Go with an OT Degree?: OT Certifications and Specialties

Where to Go with an OT Degree?: OT Certifications and Specialties

 Occupational therapy speciality certifications

An occupational therapy degree can serve as a on-ramp into a variety of different specialty certifications. 

This advanced training can not only increase your ability to assist clients with specific needs and conditions but also opens you up to new employment opportunities and career paths.  

This post summarizes the advanced certifications available to occupational therapy practitioners. 

I provide a ball park figure of the amount of training and cost involved in each path. Please note that the figures are estimates. Regarding time, I did not factor in the time needed to prepare for and take the certification exam, as that would vary depending on the individual. 

You can follow links for more comprehensive information about each OT certification. Links are not endorsements of certain programs.

OT Certifications to Expand Your Practice

Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) 

In the SNF setting, I practiced basic lymphedema management under the close supervision of a CLT. However, the opportunity to serve more clients by expanding my expertise was apparent.  There are many CEUs out there about lymphedema management, but to be a full-fledged CLT the training can involve the following: 

Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)

The OTs I know within this specialty identified early in their careers that they wanted to pursue hand therapy. Due to the amount of hours required, this is not a certification that you stumble into. You can practice hand therapy on a basic level with your OT degree, but a CHT certification will set you apart in terms of obtaining referrals. Basic requirements include: 

Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)

Thank goodness for the ATPs I've consulted with over the years. As an average OT, you will quickly discover that the world of assistive technology can be hard to keep up with when you are managing a busy caseload.

An ATP certification can open the door to specializing in: job accommodations, computer accessibility, vehicle modifications, architectural modifications and home modifications, augmentative and alternative communication, environmental controls, positioning devices, seating and mobility, sensory aids, and learning accommodations.

ATPs in North America are certified by RESNA. Certification requires:

Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)

A SMS is a specialized ATP. I have worked with SMSs in wheelchair related matters and relied heavily on their expertise in assessment, funding options, and follow-up. 

Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)

This is a great option for those of you working in inpatient settings. If you're looking to invest in some continuing education, why not get a certification?

Neuro-Developmental Treatment Certification (C/NDT)

NDT is a hands-on approach based in movement analysis and is most commonly utilized with adults with stroke/brain injury as well as children with cerebral palsy and other neuro-motor disorders. 

Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)

If you're like me, as a new grad you've probably recommended a home modification without a full understanding of what implementation would entail.

The CAPS certification signifies training in design, marketing, and business management related to assisting seniors age in place. The certification entails:

Physical Agent Modalities (PAM) Certification

I'm struggling to find an overview of the licensing requirements in the 50 states, please send one my way if you find one. Suffice it to say that many states do not consider PAM application to be an entry level skill.

As for my experience, when I first started working, my COTA was certified in PAM and I was not. As the requirements vary from state to state, the ongoing training hours and costs will vary as well. Here is one example of a course: 

Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)

If you regularly work with patients who have experienced a brain injury, joining The Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists would be a worthwhile endeavor. A perk of the program for all new paid applicants includes a one-year subscription to the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation— a $130 value....nice!

Lee Silverman Voice Treatment- BIG (LSVT BIG)

Don’t be thrown off by the name. LVST treatment is for people with Parkinsons. It began with a focus on voice treatment, but now also features a BIG certification that focuses on utilizing bigness of movement to improve overall movement quality. 

This certification can be completed completely online! 

Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPSC)

It takes the right set-up to provide hippotherapy, but for those occupational therapists who have experience with horses and access to facilities this is a great opportunity.

Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP)

If you love that colorful tape, a CKTP certification is a great way to incorporate kinesio taping into your practice with full confidence. Through the certification process, you can specialize in: Neurological Concepts, Sports Orthopedic Concepts, Myofascial Massage Concepts, Lymphatic Concepts, Pediatric Concepts and Hand Therapy Concepts.

This certification is also available to OTAs! 

Sensory Integration and the Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT)

This is one of the more intensive certifications. The training program is sponsored by The University of Southern California Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy together with The Western Psychological Society. The current courses currently available are all on the West Coast, so travel might be involved! 

That being said, this comprehensive course covers everything form sensory integration theory, assessment, interpretation, and intervention.

Update: The SIPT certification is being phased out. I will leave the info here for the time being, but will delete it when it has been completely phased out.  

Those interested in sensory integration can check out the following options: 

Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CRDS)

Take the wheel of your driver rehabilitation knowledge and apply for certification through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists

Certified Industrial Rehabilitation Specialist (CIRS) 

Looking to implement or enhance a full industrial rehab/ Return-to-Work rehabilitation program? This certification is for you! 

Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator (CIEE)

Interested in industrial, warehouse and manufacturing ergonomics? This certification compliments work in Industrial Rehabilitation, Work Injury, Work Hardening/Conditioning.

Aquatic Therapeutic Exercise Certification (ATRIC)

I know I was always jealous when our PTA headed off to the pool for aquatic sessions, so why not dive into the benefits of aquatic therapeutic exercise with a certification? 

Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)

If you regularly work with clients who fall on the autism spectrum, this certification is one way to demonstrate that you have continued education in the area of autism and achieved competency standards. 

SAEBO Certified Therapist

This certification indicates that you understand the principles of Saebo’s Functional Dynamic Orthoses and the Saebo Arm Training Program. The course also covers current research for common treatment strategies for the upper hemiparetic limb.

Basic DIRFloortime Certification

As a refresher, DIR stands for The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model. Floortime is the framework for understanding play developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. This certification prepares clinicians to develop a DIRFloortime intervention program tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental challenges. 

Following the basic training, there are further tiers of certification. You can read about those here

Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT)

The CLVT uses functional vision evaluation instruments to assess visual acuity, visual fields, contrast sensitivity function, color vision, stereopsis, visual perceptual and visual motor functioning, literacy skills in reading and writing, etc. as they relate to vision impairment and disability. 

Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

This certification will be most beneficial to occupational therapists who work in primary care or community health. A Certified Diabetes Educator is a health professional who possesses comprehensive knowledge of and experience in prediabetes, diabetes prevention, and management. 

Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP)

The CPRP credential is for professionals who work in adult psychiatric settings and seek to stay up to date on best practices for serving adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The test demonstrates credential also demonstrates competency in best practices. 

AOTA Sponsored Certifications 

AOTA Board Certifications are offered in the areas of...

  • Gerontology (BCG)
  • Mental Health (BCMH)
  • Pediatrics (BCP)
  • Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)

Board certification in these practice areas is awarded through the AOTA. Here's a nice article on "Why & How." Requirements include: 

AOTA Speciality Certifications are offered in the areas of... 

  • Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM)
  • Environmental Modification (SCEM)
  • Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES)
  • Low Vision (SCLV)
  • School Systems (SCSS)

Speciality certifications are less intensive than board certifications. Note that many of the requirements in the application are already met by obtaining your license and NBCOT credentials. Requirements include: 

Obtaining Your Post-Professional OTD

Recently obtained your MOT? Many post-professional OTDs are now offered via distance learning. There are some juicy conversations on Reddit and OTConnections about the merit of the OTD vs. a PhD vs. sticking with an MOT. The short version seems to be if you are interested in clinical leadership, the OTD is the way to go. If you wish to focus on research, a PhD could be beneficial. You need to be aware that obtaining an OTD will not automatically translate to a higher salary or new job opportunities.

Below is one example of a program. I would love to know the full range of costs between the different universities. 

Related Degrees 

I would be remiss not to mention that many OTs pursue second degrees that compliment their work as an occupational therapist. When I first started reading OT publications regularly, I was often confused by the alphabet soup following people's names. Here is list of common degrees: 

  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Science (ScD)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Certified Rehab Counselor (CRC)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Health Care

I hope this list was helpful to you as you think about where to go with your OT degree! I'm sure I've left out some options/valuable information, so please share in the comments section. 

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