As demand for effective and affordable healthcare services increases, providers are choosing to use large numbers of support personnel, in the form of aides and assistants.  These workers can be trained relatively quickly (generally 2 years), and paid less than the therapists they support.  That’s not the same as saying that they are unessential and underpaid: therapy aides and assistants are a critical and growing part of the healthcare community; they generally have an excellent job outlook, and most make more money than the national median.

Therapy assistants are heavily involved with the sophisticated methods practiced by their supervisors; they generally require post-secondary training of 1 or 2 years in their specific field of therapy to qualify for entry-level positions.

Therapy Assisting Career Outlook

Related Careers: PHYSICAL AND OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANTS AND AIDES, and other therapy assisting positions

The career outlook for therapy assistants is expected to be excellent for physical therapy assistants and occupational therapy assistants.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 109,900 physical therapist aides and assistants in 2008; that figure is expected to grow to 147,800 by 2018.  That’s a projected growth rate of 35% - much higher than the expected 8.2% expansion of the civilian economy - and 37,900 new jobs.

Job Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

There aren’t as many occupational therapist assistants and aides, but they are expected to enjoy a similarly strong growth rate.  According to the BLS, there were 34,400 working occupational therapist assistants and aides in 2008, that figure is expected to grow to 44,800 by 2018: a projected growth rate of 30% that reflects over 10,000 new jobs.

Job Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Net (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, expects that there will be a total of 53,900 positions available to licensed and qualified physical therapy assistants and aides from 2008 to 2018; that figure includes the 37,900 new positions the BLS predicts AND job openings due to retirement, early termination, etc.  O*NET predicts that there will be 15,300 openings for occupational therapist assistants and aides over the same time period.

All therapists have aides and assistants; generally, the more difficult and expensive to train a therapist, the better the outlook for their assistants.  For associate’s and bachelor’s degree-holding respiratory therapists, then, the career outlook for aides and assistants is not nearly as strong as for those in occupational or physical therapy.  In fact, there is expected to be no growth for respiratory therapy aides: the BLS predicts a 200-job decrease by 2018.

Therapy Assistant Earnings

Though earnings vary by educational achievement and work experience, therapy assistants and aides are generally well paid compared to national median yearly earnings.

The BLS reports that physical therapy assistants (a larger group than less-trained and lower-paid aides) made a median of $46,140 yearly in 2008.  The middle 50% made between $37,170 and $54,900.  The bottom 10% made less than $28,580, and the top 10% made more than $63,830.

Occupational therapy assistants made a median of $48,230 yearly in 2008.  The middle 50% of the occupation made between $39,240 and $57,810.  The bottom 10% made less than $31,150, and the top 10% made more than $65,160.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical and occupational aides made up a small part of their respective fields, compared with assistants, but they also made significantly less money: the median yearly wages for physical therapist aides in 2008 were $23,760.  The median yearly wages for occupational therapist aides were $26,960.

Therapy Assisting Educational Benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational and physical therapist assistants and aides must generally have an associate’s degree to qualify for entry-level positions, though in some situations a combination of work experience and a therapy assisting certificate or diploma will suffice.

The Occupational Information Network, a government employment information resource, reports that 14% of physical therapy assistants have no formal post-secondary education.  Two-thirds (66%) have some college education, including physical therapy assisting associate’s degrees and diplomas.  The remaining 20% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

The educational achievement of occupational therapy assistants is similarly skewed towards associate’s degrees; only 3% of occupational therapist assistants have no formal education past high school, and 13% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The remaining 84% have some college, including occupational therapist assisting associate’s degrees and diplomas.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Therapy Assisting Programs Online

Degrees Possible:  Associate’s, Diploma, and Certificate

There is a range of online physical, occupational, and other therapy assisting programs, most of them granting associate’s degrees.

The best of these programs will provide a rigorous education comparable to therapy assisting programs offered at a local school or college, but in a more flexible format better suited to working students.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online physical, occupational, respiratory, or speech-language therapy assisting program:  is the school accredited?    What is the school’s job placement rate?  What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically?  You’ll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on this family of Web sites; but don’t be afraid to ask questions of your admissions counselor.

Therapy Assisting Skills and Abilities

Communication and active listening skills are of the utmost importance to medical support personnel of all types; they must be able to take, and act on complex instructions from their supervisors.

Like the therapists that they work with, assistants and aides work extensively with those who have physically and mentally disabling conditions.  Assistants and aides must be patient and compassionate in their work.

Respiratory therapist technicians work in the same high-stress, life-and-death circumstances as their supervisors; they must be able to keep a cool head and perform well under pressure.

Therapy Assisting Advancement and Qualification

Completion of a physical, occupational, respiratory, or speech-language therapy assisting program qualifies the candidate for entry level positions as PHYSICAL AND OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANTS AND AIDES, and other therapy assisting positions, depending on the specific degree earned.

Therapy assistants are in a good position to qualify for the master’s and doctorate programs that can qualify them for eventual positions as therapists in their own right.