Whether you’ve been practicing for two years or two decades, you might be wondering where to go next in your OTA career.
While, we at OT Potential are proud to offer you continuing education based around new research, we also know that getting a certification can help you build specialized skills and demonstrate expertise in your field.
There are numerous certifications available for OTAs. Some are easier to obtain than others, but most require taking a course and/or an exam. This is not a comprehensive list, but here are some of the more common ones—along with the requirements for fulfillment, cost, time, and information about renewal.
- Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
- Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
- Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)
- Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
- Physical Agent Modalities (CPAM)
- Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT and CLT-LANA)
- Certified Health Coach (CHC)
- Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP)
- Lee Silverman Voice Training – Big (LSVT)
Disclaimer: All content is provided solely for informational purposes, and does not serve as any form of endorsement. Also, please verify the information provided with the relevant certifying agencies, as information can change over time.
Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
If technology excites you, and you work with complex clients (especially those with congenital or progressive disabilities), the ATP certification is a great pick. Offered by RESNA, the ATP designates clinicians who specialize in using assistive technology to help clients participate in ADLs, employment, and education. An ATP might address augmentative and alternative communication, computer accessibility, environmental modifications, vehicle modifications, positioning, sensory aids, seating and mobility, and more.
- Requirements: 200-question multiple-choice exam
- Time: 3,000 hours of direct assistive technology work experience AND six years of therapy work experience
- Cost: $500 application/exam fee
- Renewal: $175 every two years, plus documentation of related work experience and continuing education
For more information, visit the RESNA ATP info page.
Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
The SMS certification (also offered by RESNA) was developed to further distinguish ATPs who are highly specialized in seating, positioning, and mobility assessment, as well as funding resources, implementing interventions, and assessing outcomes. This certification is designed for the clinician who works with complex rehab clients regarding seating and custom mobility—and it provides the foundation to incorporate the use of electronics to address limitations caused by complex and/or progressive diseases.
- Prerequisite: Active ATP certification
- Requirements: 165-question multiple-choice exam
- Time: 1,000 hours in seating and mobility-related experience AND two seating and mobility activities in the past five years, such as CEU, advocacy, mentoring, publication, or leadership
- Cost: $250 application/exam fee
- Renewal: $175 every two years, and documentation of related work experience and continuing education
For more information, visit the RESNA SMS info page.
Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)
The Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) designation is geared toward those who want to help seniors age in place. CAPS-designated OTAs modify people’s living environments by addressing the most common safety barriers. The CAPS designation is not designed specifically for therapists (in fact, most CAPS professionals are home remodelers), but a growing number of those with the CAPS credential work in healthcare.
- Time: Completion of a three-day training course
- Cost: Course cost of $330 plus graduation fee ($218)
- Renewal: Annual renewal fee ($83), plus 12 hours of building industry-related continuing education every three years
For more information, visit the CAPS info page.
Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
The Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists (ACBIS) offers a voluntary national certification program for both entry-level staff and experienced professionals working in brain injury services. ACBIS provides staff and professionals the opportunity to learn important information about brain injury, to demonstrate learning in a written examination, and to earn a nationally recognized credential.
CBIS Certification is not restricted to any one profession or discipline. Rather, it is intended for anyone who delivers services specific to brain injury. Official ACBIS training is offered through many state chapters and through many service providers, but training is not required to sit for the examination. Here is the exam outline.
- Cost: $300 fee
- Time: 500 hours of direct contact with individuals with brain injury
- Requirements: Pass exam
- Renewal: Annual application and $60 fee, plus completion of 10 hours of continuing education
For more information, visit the CBIS info page.
Physical Agent Modalities (CPAM)
Some states require credentialing beyond your basic license in order to use physical agent modalities (PAMs). However, each state has unique regulations, so please make sure to check your state’s board for guidance. There are several organizations that offer certification courses, but the time and cost vary. This info is about a certification from PAMPCA:
- Time: Two-day workshop and a 20-hour self-study portion (recommend starting no later than one month before attending the workshop)
- Cost: $595 for all materials, exam, and workshop
- Certification Requirements: Two-hour exam on didactic and workshop materials. Additionally, you must demonstrate competency of PAMs usage via supervised and documented treatments by an OT/OTA with CPAM certification.
- Renewal: None
For more information, visit the CPAM info page.
Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT and CLT-LANA)
The lymphatic system is often misunderstood, and lymphedema is frequently under-diagnosed and under-treated. However, OTAs can be highly valuable resources in the management of lymphedema. There are multiple organizations that offer certification in management of lymphedema (CLT). The North American Lymphedema Education Association (NALEA) is an alliance of the four CLT schools responsible for training the majority of CLT therapists, and NALEA has defined the core curricula for the certification based on international standards. These four schools are: Norton, Klose, Vodder, and ACOLS. Other schools outside NALEA can and do also offer the 135-hour training course.
- Requirements: Multiple choice, written, and practical exam
- Cost: $3100 – $3900 varying with course provider
- Time: 135-hour training (90 hours of classroom instruction and 45 hour home study)
- Renewal: Every five years
Voluntary secondary certification by the Lymphology Association of North American (LANA) has been developed to support advanced standards of training and education based on sound scientific theories and treatment approaches to improve the quality of treatment.
- Requirements: Completion of CLT instructional course, active CLT, pass 120-multiple choice question exam
- Cost: $430 exam fee
- Renewal: Six years requiring either 24 hours of continued education or retaking the certification exam, as well as $200 fee
For more information, visit the CLT info page.
Certified Health Coach (CHC)
Developed by clinicians for clinicians, the CHC certification builds upon the skills, knowledge, and experience you already have as an OTA, such as management of health conditions and patient communication styles. This is a self-study course that includes an audio CD, video clips, articles, and webinars, and the course prepares you for taking the online certification exam. The goal of earning a CHC is to learn skills that increase patient engagement and better guide patients toward meeting their goals.
- Requirements: Current National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) membership
- Time: 70+ hours of self-study and practice
- Cost: $485 for material and exam
- Renewal: Re-examination required every five years at a cost of $445
For more information, visit the CHC info page.
Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP)
If you love that colorful tape, a CKTP certification is a great way to incorporate kinesiology taping into your practice with full confidence. Kinesio University offers this certification, but there is a conflict in the requirements regarding the eligibility of OTAs. Pursue this based on your state’s regulations, and consider speaking with the certification company to get clarification.
- Requirements: Passing grade of 80% on 100-question exam (three-hour); active Kinesio Taping Association International membership
- Time: Four, eight-hour courses
- Cost: $1140 for courses, $99 for exam
- Renewal: Annual membership ($49/year)
For more information, visit the CKTP info page.
Lee Silverman Voice Training – Big (LSVT)
Don’t be thrown off by the namel; LSVT BIG is a movement-based treatment protocol for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (as well as other neurological disorders). Certification programs put therapists through an “intensive whole body amplitude-based training protocol.”
LSVT BIG is now offering an online certification course, but not all states approve the online certification. Please check here to verify your state’s approval status.
- Time: Live course – Two pre-workshop readings and a two-day, in-person workshop. Online course – 40-module online curriculum (~16 hours to complete)
- Requirements: Completion of curriculum and successful passing of exam (85%)
- Cost: $580 for either live or online
- Renewal: LSVT BIG Certification Renewal Course every two years (online two hour course, $50). No CEU requirement.
For more information, visit the LSVT BIG info page.
What if my supervising therapist does not have the same certification?
This is a question that has popped up several times, and it’s a really good question. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good answers that offer much clarity on the issue. We encourage you to get in contact with your state licensing board for further guidance. And, if you have any insights, please share them in the comments section for us! Hopefully, we can crowdsource some answers!
What does it take to bridge to from an OTA to an OT degree?
As you can see, there are many ways to advance your practice and demonstrate advanced competencies. If you seek greater autonomy, or want to go into teaching, consider becoming an OTR. OTA-to-OT bridge programs are designed for the working professional, and can offer a combination of distance learning and on-site classes.
Some bridge programs allow transfer of previous course credits, fieldwork, and work experience toward the program requirements to help lower your time and financial burden.
Another variation in programs is whether they require a bachelor’s degree. Some do, while others only require students take additional courses as prerequisites. Bridge programs typically can be completed in two to three years, and can cost around $80,000.
This website provides a thorough breakdown of the transition from OTA to OTR, including the pros and cons, the financials, and additional links.
Here is one example of a bridge program based in Massachusetts (Bay Path University). It offers a blend of online coursework and on-site participation every other weekend.
- Prerequisites: An associate’s degree in OTA, one year of full-time OTA work experience, current OTA license
- Time: Three years (99 credits); the first two semesters consist of undergraduate classes that will prepare you for the master’s degree.
- Cost: $79,695
- Prerequisites: An associate’s degree in OTA, a bachelor’s degree in any field, one year of full-time OTA work experience, current OTA license, completion of certain prerequisite undergraduate level courses with a B- or better
- Time: 2 years (68 credits)
- Cost: $65,280
The OTA designation is just the beginning; there are many different certifications and career paths available to OT assistants.
From home modification to seating and mobility, an OTA can choose from many specialty routes. And, if you’d like to take a more traditional route, OTR bridge programs provide pathways to advance your skills.
Whatever you decide to pursue, there are endless possibilities for staying satisfied and engaged as an OTA!
10 replies on “Your Guide to COTA Certifications and Specialties”
Thanks for your attention to OTA’s as well. I have been a COTA/L for 17 years … this is great information!
Thank You guys for creating this. This is very helpful!
This is greatly appreciated. The current state I’m employed in really under values COTAs and I’m always the COTA breaking down the barriers for the first time. Keep the information and support flowing!
Can COTA get certified in NDT?
I am interested in certified Hand Therapy, any way to take courses to get a certification without becoming an OTR, remaining as a COTA/L.
Miranda, did you ever learn if COTAS can specialize in hand therapy? Thanks, Kim
I am a COTA of 10 years. I work under an OTR/CHT and am able to work with a lot of hand patient’s because of this. As a COTA you will never be able to have the title CHT but there are ways to work with hands if that is your passion. You need to find a supervisor that will take you on and mentor you well. I have been very lucky with my current supervisor and she has taught me so much. It is not an easy specialty to get into.
Isabella, did you ever find out if a COTA can specialize in NDT?
Thank you so much for this! I am about to graduate as an OTA and I’m planning to have multiple certificates listed here (CBIS, CPAM, and CLT). Is that realistic? This is more about me wanting to become more marketable and have diverse knowledge in multiple subjects.
So by any chance would there be certifications for ergonomics for COTAS?