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Can a Felon Become an Occupational Therapist?

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When it comes to getting a job after their release from prison, felons find it challenging. Jobs they once had are lost and careers may be gone. Felons may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

This is the opportunity for felons to begin a new profession. Those with interest in or experience with rehabilitation might consider a career in occupational therapy.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become an occupational therapist.

  • What is an Occupational Therapist?
  • What Education/Training Does an Occupational Therapist Need?
  • How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist (OT) helps people learn how to perform everyday tasks needed to function at home, school, and in the community following an injury or illness. An occupational therapist evaluates a patient’s needs and designs an intervention plan to help him or her regain functions like eating, interacting, or using adaptive equipment such as a wheelchair.

An occupational therapist typically has the following duties:

  • Review medical history
  • Develop a treatment plan
  • Help patients with specialized exercises
  • Help patients with therapeutic activities
  • Teach patients about special equipment
  • Assess patient’s home for safety and physical needs
  • Educate families about special needs
  • Recommend special functional equipment

An occupational therapist works in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, home health agencies, fitness facilities, and nursing homes. They work in rehabilitation, prevention, and promoting health and wellness.

There are a number of important skills necessary to be successful as an occupational therapist:

  • Adaptability
  • Compassion
  • Detail-oriented
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Physical strength and stamina

What Education/Training Does an Occupational Therapist Need?

Most occupational therapists complete a master’s degree in occupational therapy (OT). In 2017, there were about 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, organized as part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

This will permit someone to be eligible for a license in his or her state. Most states require an application, official transcripts, a background check, and submission of NBCOT test results.

A student in an OT program will take course work that includes:

  • Behavioral neuroscience
  • Functional anatomy
  • Kinesiology
  • Physical disabilities
  • Mental health

It typically takes five to six years to complete the education necessary to become an occupational therapist.

How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were approximately 133,900 licensed occupational therapists in the U.S. in 2021. The median annual income for an occupational therapist was $85,570. The median income is that level at which half of occupational therapists earned more and half earned less.

Experience and the area of the country in which an occupational therapist works make a difference in the earnings. Those on the East or West coast typically earn more than an occupational therapist that works elsewhere. The top states for OT salary are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and New Mexico.

Growth in this field is expected to be approximately 14% from 2021 and 2023. The reason for this growth and for occupational therapy to be one of the top 10 jobs in demand is due to the aging of the baby boomer population.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A candidate applying for the NBCOT certification exam must answer the following questions:

  • Has the applicant had any professional license, registration, or certification revoked or suspended?
  • Has the applicant been found by any court to have committed negligence, malpractice, recklessness, or intentional misconduct?
  • Has the applicant been suspended or expelled from a college or university?

An applicant must submit a written personal statement explaining in detail the circumstances, dates, and locations for all legal issues, offenses, and problems, and current disposition or circumstances.

Each state board has a regulation that any person achieving an OT certificate is of good moral character. Good moral character is demonstrated through a lack of a history of dishonest actions or felony convictions. Each board considers:

A state board will review the records from the FBI database for each individual who completes an application. Criminal records that have been expunged or sealed by a court order do not have to be reported to the state board.

A felony or misdemeanor conviction is not an automatic disqualification, but full disclosure must be made. For each report, a defense will be investigated. A candidate should retain legal counsel for a background investigation if there is a criminal offense record.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming an occupational therapist. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a big challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become an occupational therapist. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can also make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become an occupational therapist with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become an Occupational Therapist?”

  1. Very same situation.. No way to expunge. April of 2004 was last major anything aside from minor traffic violations. Heart to serve, though. Lost as to how after screwing myself so badly 16 years ago.

  2. I am in a very similar situation and had planned to enter a nursing program, but am confident that it is a bad choice. I was told the same thing about needing a pardon. Any clue how this can be done and where to possibly start?

  3. I have a felony that can not be expunged. I’m wondering if I should spend the time and money on schooling if I don’t even know that I would be able to become licensed? My felony was 15 years ago when I was barely 22 and I have never been in trouble again. It was drug related and would require a governors pardon which I actively seeking now.


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