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What Does a Career in Rehabilitation Therapy Entail?

If you think you might want to become a rehabilitation therapist, a career in rehabilitation therapy first starts with an education in the field. As an undergrad, you can choose between a few options: Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, or Speech Therapy. Once you have decided your specific path in terms of academics, you can pursue your bachelor's and then an advanced master's degree for more specific techniques. Along the way, you will probably need to complete practicums, training, perhaps an internship, and qualify for licensure as a rehabilitation counselor in your state.

Qualifying for licensure will involve passing an examination. Once you are licensed, you must continue to keep your license up to date with regular continuing education courses in order to maintain your license and employment. Each state has its own requirements for this, but you should assume that you will need to take somewhere around thirty hours of continuing education courses in rehabilitation counseling every two years.

Once you have taken care of your license and/or certificate, your career as a rehabilitation therapist can take many different forms. These counselors could work in a hospital office with a regular caseload or for an agency that focuses on one-on-one or group therapy sessions. You might prefer to work with children or adults or have enough training to work with both i a variety of settings. Physical therapists can take clients for real-world experiences working with stair climbing and occupational therapists can spend time in the home of an elderly person who needs help navigating her kitchen or bathroom. Rehabilitation therapists have similar freedoms.


Components of A Successful Career In "Rehabilitation Therapy"

To create a successful career as a rehabilitation therapist, you must first build a strong educational foundation. Your academic background will be immensely important to your long-term success. You should plan on attaining a master's degree before entering the job market. A university may also offer immersive degree programs that you enter as an undergraduate first-year student but graduate with a master's degree, effectively skipping the undergrad diploma.

Your career will benefit from some sort of specialization. Employers want to know that you have specific experience in particular areas. As an occupational therapist, for instance, you can gain focused experience with the elderly population, people with mental health issues, or pediatrics, among others. If graduates wish to solidify their experience in any specialty area, they can augment it with focused continuing education courses. Some states may even allow you to prepare courses for other therapists and qualify that time as part of your own CEU requirements.

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How to Earn an Online Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy

Typical Rehabilitation Therapy Degree Requirements

To attain a degree in rehabilitation therapy, you will need to pass certain required courses. Each branch of rehabilitation therapy is likely to have its own requirements, but there are some common to all specialties in health sciences.

Other requirements to enter a rehabilitation therapist program include: a high school diploma or GED, required ACT or SAT scores, application fee, and possibly even letters of recommendation or an interview.

Typical Rehabilitation Therapy Certifications Needed

To practice as a bona fide rehabilitation therapist, you will need state licensure. While each state has its own requirements, general guidelines entail a qualifying degree, satisfactory scores on a standardized examination, adequate supervised hours, and letters of recommendation. The following boards either administer exams or review examination scores for their given fields:

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  • Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
  • National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy
  • National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Academic Standards for Online Rehabilitation Therapy Degrees

Rehabilitation therapists tend to need to earn degrees that have high academic standards and requirements. In order to remain in a program, you will likely need to maintain a certain GPA level, often 2.5, but your program may have higher standards.

Some undergraduate rehabilitation therapy programs have their own admission process. You can apply after you've completed your sophomore year. While you should strive to maintain the highest possible GPA, admission standards can be as low as a 2.5. Typically, these programs also require that you have completed certain prerequisite courses prior to admission. Prerequisite courses may be similar to the core curriculum for other majors but be sure to check your school's specific requirements.

Exam/Experience Needed for Rehabilitation Therapy Degrees

rehabilitation_therapies_exam_experience_needed As you work through a rehabilitation therapy degree, your program should be grooming you for success on the requirements of the relevant professional examination to come. Depending on your state, your licensure will probably include an experiential requirement. That is, you might need to spend several months working under a professional with the appropriate license.

Your experience, academic transcripts, and satisfactory examination scores will be passed on to your state's licensing board. Once they review and approve your application packet, you should receive your current license.

Online Associates Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy

If you are starting out at a community college or are unsure whether rehabilitation therapy is the field for you, an online associate degree is a great choice. With an AA in rehabilitation therapy, you can work as an assistant to an OT or PT. That sort of experience will be invaluable when you return to school or otherwise move forward in your career.

Some courses you might take include:

  • Intro to Kinesiology
  • Rehabilitation Assessment
  • Occupational Analysis
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Pharmacology and Imaging
Read More About a Rehabilitation Therapy Associate Degree

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy

With a four-year degree, you can begin to focus on specific populations in your work. Your course load will become far more difficult, as well. However, with each passing course you will be one step closer to a richly rewarding bachelor's degree in rehabilitation therapy. Earning this degree will open more opportunities for entry-level and mid-level positions in the field.

Some online courses you might take include, but aren't limited to:

  • Introduction to Rehabilitation Science
  • Medical Terminology
  • Psychology of Disability
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Introduction to Biopsychology
  • Research Methods
Read More About a Rehabilitation Therapy Bachelor's Degree

Online Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy/Science

A master's degree in rehabilitation therapy/science will set your career into high gear. You'll need at least that to become a rehabilitation therapist. In fact, to practice as an occupational therapist you will need a master's degree and physical therapists will need a doctoral degree, the highest level of education available. As you work towards academic and career success, you might take some of the following courses:

Online Master’s degree sample courses:

  • Complex Behavior Analysis
  • Legal and Ethical Issues
  • Motor Control Principles
  • Neuromuscular Adaptations to Exercise
  • Applied Interventions in Occupational Therapy
  • Adult Occupational Therapy
  • Patient Care Skills
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Therapeutics
  • Geriatric Physical Therapy
  • Mental Health for the Elderly
  • Reading X-ray and MRI Images (Radiology)
Read More About a Rehabilitation Therapy Master's Degree

Earning Potential for Rehabilitation Therapy Degree Fields and Occupations

In clinical healthcare fields, pay rates begin to climb after you achieve a master's degree. However, if you start with a two-year or four-year degree you can certainly begin to get your feet wet and even earn a good living. If your goal is to become a physical therapist, for instance, you will want to eventually earn a doctoral degree. Those with AA or BA degrees can work as PT assistants, and the same goes in the occupational therapy field.

Therefore, strive to complete at least a bachelor's degree. If you stop at an associate’s degree, you'll be competing for assistant positions against those with two more years of education. You can land those positions, but with an associate degree, you will likely earn far less.

Rehabilitation Therapy Fields of Study Median Salaries

  • Recreational Therapy: This field deals with how various recreational activities can have a therapeutic benefit to people suffering from diseases, recovering from severe injuries, or who have chronic disabilities. The field covers the gamut of activities, including arts, crafts, swimming, sports, and dance.
  • Occupational Therapy: This field trains students to administer therapeutic solutions to people recovering or suffering from a variety of acute and chronic conditions. Occupational therapists work with patients to set goals for everyday sorts of activities they wish to master. When you become an OT you might help kids attain scholastic goals or geriatric individuals cope with declining cognitive functionality.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy studies movement and how to assist patients in their recovery from injury, disease, and chronic disabilities. As a PT you will employ evidence-based methodology to help teach patients how to walk with a walker, effectively use a wheelchair, or simply coordinate their limbs after a brain injury.
  • Rehabilitation Sciences: Studies how to assist humans in their rehabilitation from various health problems. As a student, you'll study various technological and biomedical solutions to disabilities, injuries, and disease. The field integrates health science, social science, and engineering in the pursuit of health and wellness.
  • Kinesiology: This field studies human movement. That can include typing, dancing, martial arts, or any other activity where a person moves their body. This field is a great precursor to deeper studies in physical therapy, biomechanics, dietetics, sports psychology, and any field that relates to movement.
  • Nutrition and Wellness: You'll study the impact of nutrition on overall human health and wellness. You will learn how to create diets that help athletes maximize their potential or help pre-diabetics avoid a full-blown manifestation of that disease.
  • Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology: When you study speech-language pathology, you discover the physical and psychological underpinnings of how human beings speak and communicate. You gain the skills to help people suffering from various communicative disorders or injuries to recover and begin to communicate.
  • Physician Assistant: This field trains students to practice medicine much like a doctor. You'll learn to examine patients, diagnose problems, and prescribe a treatment plan. Unlike an MD, PAs do not operate independently but must work under a supervising MD, who signs off on all treatments, prescriptions, etc. You'll learn to work with physicians, surgeons, and the full range of healthcare providers.
  • Sports Medicine: This area of health science involves getting athletes back in the game. Some practitioners are found on the sidelines of sporting events, on call to bandage ankles or provide triage in the event of serious injuries. This field demands that practitioners diagnose and treat injuries with a moment's notice, but also that they help players rehabilitate after an injury.

Field of Study Average Salary by Degree Level

Field of Study Associates Salary Bachelor’s Salary Master’s Salary
Recreational Therapy $26,410 $47,000 $65,400
Physical Therapy $46,920 $55,000 $86,850
Occupational Therapy $46,000 $55,690 $83,200
Rehabilitation Sciences $32,000 $45,000 $47,000
Kinesiology $24,000 $36,000 $56,000
Nutrition and Wellness $28,580 $56,300 $65,000
Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology $50,000 $57,000 $79,234
Sports Medicine $45,000 $59,000 $64,000
Physician Assistant n/a n/a $92,757

Rehabilitation Therapy Salaries by Occupation

You can enter a rehabilitation therapy field from nearly any degree level. The healthcare industry is booming and so even an online associate degree in a related field will help you land a position in a hospital or clinic. Note that an online associate degree will land you a position as an assistant or aide. In order to fully practice a therapeutic profession, you will need a master's degree. A bachelor's degree may command a higher average salary than an associate, but the difference will not be great.

Rehabilitation Therapy Occupations

  • Occupational Therapist: This position works with patients who have specific difficulties, whether injury, disease, mental illness, or a chronic condition. They work with the patient to arrive at a goal for their treatment sessions and employ science-based methods to attain a satisfactory result. As an OT, you can work in a variety of environments, but most professionals work in hospitals or clinics. Others might work in private homes or in the wider community, meeting patients where they need help the most.
  • Occupational Therapy Aide/Associate: Assists an occupational therapist and follows their instructions for helping patients achieve their goals. An aide might be called upon for physical supports or to otherwise help the OT achieve their goal. Ultimately an OT aide's duties are supportive in nature and might involve preparing the OT with various tools with which to conduct a therapy session.
  • Physical Therapist: Through exercises and other science-based methods, PTs help patients regain mobility in joints and limbs after they have become disabled due to injury or illness. As a PT you will likely be part of a treatment team that might involve other professionals such as social workers, neurologists, psychologists, and orthopedic surgeons. Typically, PTs work in hospitals, but they might also visit home-bound patients or other private clients in need of care.
  • Physical Therapy Aide/Associate: If you are still working towards your doctoral degree in physical therapy, you can work as an aide or associate to a licensed PT. Your duties will be to help prepare therapy sessions with the appropriate equipment or whatever is required for that patient. You might also record data while the PT works more closely with the patient. For instance, you might operate a stopwatch and note the time it takes a patient to walk a specific length across the floor.

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  • Speech-Language Pathologist: When people have communication difficulties resulting from an injury to their ears or mouth, Speech-Language Pathologists help them overcome that problem. The ultimate goal is to enable greater effectiveness in speech or comprehension. For instance, you might help a patient learn to work with a cochlear implant or overcome a lisp.
  • Recreational Therapist: Recreation can be therapeutic for many people seeking to overcome physical or mental difficulties. In this position, you can work with patients using a wide range of modalities, including games, arts, crafts, or sports, among many other activities. It might sound like you're paid to have fun, and it is fun, but you will also need to monitor patient safety and chart their relative success.
  • Rehabilitation Services Coordinator: This position oversees a rehab ward in a hospital or otherwise supervises rehabilitation professionals. As part of your job, you might be in charge of scheduling therapists and their patients so that users of the various facilities are equitably distributed. You will need to also manage the various members of a patient's treatment team so that everyone's schedule is in synch. You might move into this position after you gain significant experience as a clinician.
  • Athletic Trainers: Trainers help athletes overcome injury or recover after a period of idleness for whatever reason. You might also help diagnose specific physical issues that are holding an athlete back from their optimum performance. With that diagnosis you can then prescribe specific exercises that address the issue.
  • Chiropractors: These doctors achieve doctoral degrees to help patients attain optimum health and wellness by means of proper spinal alignment. When the spine, and other parts of the skeleton, are misaligned, the nervous system can become impinged and it can threaten overall health. As a chiropractor, you will also consult with patients on other related health issues.

Annual Salary by Occupation (Range)

Occupations Entry-Level Mid-Career Late Career
Occupational Therapist $62,000 $71,600 $79,100
Occupational Therapy Aide/Associate - - -
Physical Therapist $75,500 $79,700 $89,000
Physical Therapy Aide/Associate $22,600 $36,500 $43,600
Speech-Language Pathologist $55,100 $65,200 $74,900
Recreational Therapist $40,300 $41,300 $50,000
Rehabilitation Services Coordinator $38,000 $62,000 $70,000
Athletic Trainers $39,300 $46,300 $56,500
Chiropractor $51,900 $64,900 $76,500

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Rehabilitation Therapy bachelor's degree online?

If you choose to pursue a rehabilitation therapy bachelor's degree online, try to be diligent and disciplined in your studies. If you keep your nose to the grindstone and put your therapeutic career as top priority, you can probably complete a bachelor's degree in four years or less. If you take a full load of classes and don't take any terms off, this will be easy to achieve.

While you might find that you need to take time away from work to complete your degree in an expedient manner, consider that your future will offer far more opportunities in your work as a rehabilitation therapist. A little sacrifice and struggle will pay off in terms of a stellar career as a rehabilitation therapist.

How much does an Online Rehabilitation Therapy bachelor’s degree cost?

The cost of an online bachelor's degree in rehabilitation therapy can vary depending on your school, and how you approach the degree. For instance, if you take your first two years of classes in a local, inexpensive community college and then transfer to a public university, your costs can be as low as $30,000 for the degree. Other students might desire a private university in a major metropolis. Their degree can cost upwards of $300,000.

Whether your college is at the lower or higher end of that spectrum, search for scholarships or grants to help defray the cost of education.

Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?


As you seek out a college for your degree, make sure to find one with the precise major you require. For instance, a few colleges have degrees specifically in rehabilitation therapy, while far more offer programs in occupational therapy, recreational therapy, or speech-language-hearing therapy. These all lead to rehabilitation therapist careers, just with a different focus.

Once you've found a school with the exact degree you're seeking, check what degree levels they offer. That is, some occupational therapy departments offer a bachelor's degree, but also an accelerated master's program. A online master's might require only an extra year or so, with no breaks, so consider whether that will help you achieve your long-term career goals.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?


Graduating with a bachelor's degree in four years is less and less normal, it seems. When the government studies attrition rates and the time students spend between entry as first-year students and graduation, they now use six years as the baseline measurement.

Studies have shown that students in highly competitive schools tend to graduate on-time in greater percentages. Students in open-enrollment colleges tend to take longer than six years if they ever graduate at all. Therefore, strive to attend the best and most competitive college you can.

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?


Accreditation is an issue that all students should heed when researching rehabilitation therapy programs. Essentially, attending a non-accredited program is discouraged. Rather, seek out a program that holds a national or regional accreditation of some sort. For prospective rehabilitation therapists and those looking to enter other health sciences programs, look for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

Software, Technology & Skills Needed

To become a rehabilitation therapist, you won't necessarily need to have any special skills in software or technology. You will likely learn how to use various tools that will be useful in your career. For instance, budding physical therapists might gain facility with strengthening tools or various implements that will help

Rehabilitation Therapy Scholarships

  • APTA Minority Scholarships - Physical Therapist Students
    Deadline:December 1

    The American Physical Therapy Association rewards minority students seeking to enter the profession. You can apply for this award as an undergraduate student, but you must be in your final year of a PT program. To apply, you must submit your complete transcripts, a personal essay, and a curriculum vitae.

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  • American Art Therapy Association
    Amount:Up to $900
    Deadline:July 1

    This award goes to students who are working toward becoming art therapists. You should be in a qualifying graduate program and have a minimum GPA of 3.25.

  • AOTF Scholarships for Occupational Therapy Assistants
    Amount:$150 - $5,000

    Applicants must be enrolled full-time in an OT or OT Assistant program. The number and size of available scholarships varies from year to year. Review the listings on their website to see if any are right for you, and don’t forget to check the state specific scholarships for ones in your area.

  • North Coast Medical Scholarship Program

    This annual $5,000 scholarship is targeted towards students enrolled in occupational therapy assistant programs. To qualify you must be a member of the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. The application can be found on the AOTF website.

Professional Rehabilitation Therapy Organizations

  • AOTA
  • APTA
  • ATRA


American Occupational Therapy Association

The AOTA was formed in 1917 to help advance the profession and its students. Their goal is to continually improve occupational therapy services through political action as well as setting high standards for education, best practices, and professional conduct. The association facilitates learning with CEUs available through its online portal, referrals to approved educational providers, and its own academic accreditation standards.



The American Physical Therapy Association

APTA is an association that benefits PTs through offering a strong voice in national and state-level healthcare debates. Their PAC work impacts national and state legislation. Individual PTs are positively impacted through their many networking opportunities, career development resources, and news and information pertinent to the profession.



American Therapeutic Recreation Association

Recreational therapists join this association in order to find learning opportunities, information on ever-evolving best-practices, and to support activities on Capitol Hill. Their conferences and continuing education opportunities will provide you with the tools you need to create your absolute best career. ATRA membership will ensure that you not only complete your CEU hours but that you have fun doing it.

Choosing an Accredited Online College

Proper accreditation is absolutely vital the success of all students. When your credit hours are verified and certified by a national certifying agency, your diploma will be well-regarded in the field. In rehabilitation therapy, there are agencies that certify individual degrees that fall under that umbrella. For instance, there are accrediting bodies that specialize in occupational therapy and physical therapy. Strive to attend a program that is accredited by a well-regarded agency.

Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid

When you look for a rehabilitation therapy degree program, you might be overwhelmed with the options. Schools offer courses online, on-campus, and through hybrid programs. Online degree programs are gaining popularity, but students still overwhelmingly prefer on-campus courses. Don't let popularity dissuade you from an online education. It's been proven that online educations offer the same student outcomes as traditional classroom work.

To bridge the gap, some programs are now offering a hybrid approach. With this approach, you are required to attend seminars or other events on campus periodically throughout a semester. Often you only need to visit campus once per term, but every program has an individual approach. Once you have met your instructors and fellow classmates on campus you then return home to work through courses according to the restrictions and requirements of your own schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?

Though the healthcare job market is exploding, you still want to see that the university through which you take your rehabilitation therapy program offers job placement assistance. When you apply to a program, discuss this with your admissions counselor. Discuss whether professors are available to write letters of recommendation and what sorts of job fairs the college or university hosts. If you are entering as a first-year undergraduate, ask how well students fare when applying to graduate school, as you will certainly want to attend a graduate school or university to fully launch your therapeutic career.

Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary ?

Ratings and accreditations are very important to the success of your career as a rehabilitation therapist. When you graduate from an undergraduate program and start applying to graduate schools, those schools will need to see a transcript from an accredited program. If you have high grades from a non-accredited program, you may still be asked to re-take many, if not all, of your courses. That is, non-accredited courses will often not transfer to graduate programs. Furthermore, employers are unlikely to hire students from non-accredited or low-rated schools.

Please strive to attend the very best, well-accredited program. Your hard work will pay off in terms of a brilliant career.

What steps might be included in the treatment of an individual by a rehabilitation counselor?

There are many individual steps that might be followed by a rehabilitation counselor when they see a new patient.

The following steps might not all be followed for every patient, but this list will help you understand the process.

  • Assessment
  • Diagnosis and treatment planning
  • Career counseling
  • Individual or group treatments which can help patients adjust to medical and psychosocial impact of disability
  • Case management, referral, and service coordination
  • Research and program adjustment
  • Intervention if necessary to remove barriers caused by attitude, environment, etc.
  • Consultation with other healthcare workers or regulatory systems
  • Job analysis, development, and placement – this may include assistance with gaining accommodations

Where can I work?

There are a number of places that you can find work in this field. First, there are the options for work with state agencies that offer community services. Or you might consider working wit a specific population. For example, you could work with school students in order to help those with disabilities transition into new schools or environments or you could work with a VA agency, helping veterans make their way back into civilian life. Other places you might work include college disability resource centers, psychiatric institutions, or legal settings if you gain enough education to be called on as an expert witness.

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