HDP Careers: Therapy and Rehabilitation

Therapy and rehabilitation are the application of any medical, psychiatric, psychological or alternative process designed to promote health and well-being of an individual with the goal of helping him or her achieve the highest level of function, independence, and quality of life possible.  Therapists work with individuals who have conditions that are mentally, physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling. They assess the nature and extent of the problems and help the individuals manage them in order to develop, recover, or maintain daily living and work skills. These conditions may result from birth defects, illness or disease, accidents, or the stress of daily life. Rehabilitation can help clients not only to recover a variety of functions such their basic motor skills or reasoning abilities, but also to compensate for permanent loss of function. These therapists work in such settings as hospitals, nursing homes, private practice or do contract work. Therapists should be comfortable working with persons who are ill or who have disabilities and must be patient, tactful, and persuasive when working with people who have a variety of special needs. Ingenuity, a sense of humor, and imagination are often helpful to adapt to individual personalities and situations.

Rehabilitation and Human Development

Because Therapy and Rehabilitation deals with helping people to recover from disability, an understanding of normative development is key to assessing how a disability will impact an individual’s life.  The age of the individual, and the age of onset of the disability, can often determine the extent to which a patient can recover normative function. Additionally, developmental disabilities such as autism can impair normative function from developing in the first place, and require early intervention in order to give these individuals the highest quality of life possible. Disabilities such as this, or even neurological traumas such as stroke or brain damage, can impair a wide array of mental and physical functions (language, mobility, cognitive reasoning, and memory) requiring an entire team of therapists across traditional disciplines to help an individual recover. 

Training and Credentialing

Almost all therapy professions require some type of licensure, training, and certification process, although the procedure can vary by profession and by state. Currently, certification for recreational therapists is voluntary, however some positions will only hire certified therapists. Although a limited number of associate’s degree programs can lead to jobs as entry-level respiratory therapists, or assistant-level therapists in other therapy specialties, a master’s degree or higher will be the minimum educational requirement for entry-level therapist positions in Physical, Occupational, Audiological and Speech Therapy.  Potential therapists must graduate from an accredited educational program and pass a national certification examination in order to practice.

Career Descriptions

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries. Physical therapists typically work in private offices and clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. They spend much of their time on their feet, actively working with patients. Physical therapists entering the profession need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$79,860/year Doctoral or professional degree Much faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Physical Therapists  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm

UCSD Career Services References
About Physical Therapy & Occupational Therapy

Trade Organizations:
 American Physical Therapy Association

For more information about accredited physical therapy programs, visit
Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education

For more information about state licensing requirements and about the National Physical Therapy Exam, visit
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

For more information about certification, visit
American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties

For more information about how to apply to DPT programs, visit
Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. About half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals. Others work in schools, nursing homes, physicians’ offices, and home health services. Therapists spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients. Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. All states require occupational therapists to be licensed or registered.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$75,400/year Master’s degree Much faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Occupational Therapists  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm

UCSD Career Services References
About Physical & Occupational Therapy

Trade Organizations(including lists of graduate programs):
American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.

For more information about the Occupational Therapist Registered certification exam, visit
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy

Speech Therapy/Pathology

Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in patients. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, a cleft palate, cerebral palsy, or emotional problems. Most speech-language pathologists work full time and almost half work in schools. Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree. They must be licensed in most states; requirements vary by state.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$69,870/year Master’s degree Faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Speech-language pathologists  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Speech-language-pathologists.htm

Trade Organization (including lists of graduate programs):
 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Audiologist

Audiologists diagnose and treat a patient’s hearing and balance problems using advanced technology and procedures. Most audiologists work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, physicians' offices, and audiology clinics. Some work in schools or for school districts and travel between facilities. Audiologists need a doctoral degree and must be licensed in all states; requirements vary by state.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$69,720/year Doctoral or professional degree Much faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Audiologists  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/audiologists.htm

Trade Organizations(including lists of graduate programs):
 For more information about audiologists, including requirements for certification and state licensure, visit
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
American Board of Audiology

For information on doctoral programs in audiology, visit
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors help people with emotional and physical disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, and professional effects of disabilities on employment or independent living. Rehabilitation counselors work in a variety of settings, such as schools, prisons, independent-living facilities, rehabilitation agencies, and private practice. Most work full time. Rehabilitation counselors typically must have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Some positions require certification or a license.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$33,880/year Master’s degree Faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Rehabilitation counselors  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/rehabilitation-counselors.htm

Trade Organizations (including lists of graduate programs):

For more information about counseling and information about counseling specialties, visit
American Rehabilitation Counseling Association

For more information about the Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC) certification and the state licensing regulating boards, visit
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification

Child Life Specialist

Child life specialists are trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome challenging life events, particularly those related to healthcare and hospitalization.. Armed with a strong background in child development and family systems, child life specialists promote effective coping through play, preparation, education, and self-expression activities. They provide emotional support for families, and encourage optimum development of children facing a broad range of challenging experiences.  Because they understand that a child’s wellbeing depends on the support of the family, child life specialists provide information, support and guidance to parents, siblings, and other family members. They also play a vital role in educating caregivers, administrators, and the general public about the needs of children under stress.  In addition to hospitals, child life specialists are employed in hospice programs, camps, early intervention programs, courtrooms, dental practices, support/bereavement groups, community programs, and private practice

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$36,256/year Bachelor's degree About average to other professions

For More Information

Trade Organization:
Child Life Council: http://www.childlife.org/

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock. Respiratory therapists held about 119,300 jobs in 2012. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals. Others may work in nursing care facilities or travel to patients’ homes. Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.

Median Salary Minimum Education Level Job Growth outlook
$55,870/year Associate’s degree Faster than average

For More Information

US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Respiratory Therapy  http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm

Trade Organizations(including lists of graduate programs):
American Association for Respiratory Care

For a list of accredited educational programs for respiratory care practitioners, visit
Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care

For a list of state licensing agencies, as well as information on gaining credentials in respiratory care, visit
National Board for Respiratory Care, Inc.