Your Guide to OT Certifications and Specialties
An occupational therapy degree can serve as a on-ramp into a variety of different specialty certifications.
Advanced training can not only increase your ability to assist clients with specific needs and conditions, but can also open 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 for completion, 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.
Author note: If you are an OTA please, check out my post Your Guide to COTA Certification and Specialities!
OT Certifications to Expand Your Practice
Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
Thank goodness for the ATPs with whom I've consulted 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 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:
Renewal: Every two years, $150 and documentation of related work experience and continuing education
Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
A SMS is a specialized ATP. I have worked with SMSs in wheelchair-related matters, and have relied heavily on their expertise in assessment, funding options, and follow-up.
Prerequisite: ATP certification
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 of your own?
Renewal: $49, annually
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.
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.
Prerequisite: Must be a member of the NDTA (Cost: $105/year)
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 have achieved competency standards.
Prerequisite: Two years working as an OT
Renewal: $199, every two years
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:
Cost: $218 graduation fee
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!
Renewal: $60, annually
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, pre-diabetes, diabetes prevention, and diabetes management.
Prerequisite: Two years of OT practice
Time: Minimum of 1000 hours of DSME experience with a minimum of 40% of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application AND a minimum of 15 clock hours of continuing education activities applicable to diabetes within the two years prior to applying for certification.
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:
Prerequisite: Three years experience as an OT
Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator (CIEE)
Interested in industrial, warehouse and manufacturing ergonomics? This certification compliments work in Industrial Rehabilitation, Work Injury, Work Hardening/Conditioning.
Renewal: Every four years, $250
Certified Industrial Rehabilitation Specialist (CIRS)
Looking to implement or enhance a full industrial rehab/ Return-to-Work rehabilitation program? This certification is for you!
Renewal: Every four years, $350
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!
Time: Four eight-hour courses
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 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 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 provides credentialing, and also demonstrates competency in best practices.
Cost: Exam fees $495
Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CRDS)
Take the wheel of your driver rehabilitation knowledge, and apply for certification through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
Cost: Examination fee is $550
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?
Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPSC)
It takes the right setup to provide hippotherapy, but for occupational therapists who have experience with horses and access to facilities, this is a great opportunity.
Renewal: Every five years
Lee Silverman Voice Treatment- BIG (LSVT BIG)
Don’t be thrown off by the name. LVST treatment is for people with Parkinson’s disease. 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!
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:
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.
Cost: $195 for the course
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:
AOTA Board Certifications are offered in the areas of...
Mental Health (BCMH)
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.
I would be remiss not to mention that many occupational therapists pursue second degrees that complement their work as OTs. 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
There is so much to learn about the different conditions and treatment techniques that can enhance our delivery of occupational therapy. I hope this article has inspired you and given you concrete information for exploring which certifications/specializations will best help you grow your career.
I know for many of us, choosing whether to pursue one of these certifications will come down to money. And so, I also encourage you to read the article Should I Be an AOTA member?: A Guide to Investing in Your OT Career to help couch the expense with in the broader context of investments we make for our OT career.