How to Find the Right Occupational Therapist

How to Find the Right OT. GettyImages

If you have difficulty performing daily tasks, you may benefit from an occupational therapy (OT) evaluation. But, how do you find the right OT? And, what are your rights/options along the way?

The Doctor Referral

To be evaluated by an occupational therapist, in the vast majority of cases, you will need a referral. Who can refer to occupational therapy varies by state. Referrals (aka physician orders) can be obtained from M.D.s in all states.

Some states also allow referrals from a physician assistant, optometrist, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist or psychologist.

If in doubt about who can refer you to occupational therapy, call a local OT clinic and ask for guidance.

The most sure-fire way of obtaining an occupational therapy referral is to call your doctor's office. Let them know about your situation and why you think you would benefit from seeing an occupational therapist.

If you are a mentally competent adult and have been given a referral, it is your right not to follow through with recommended treatment.

The Search

It is also your right to choose your own OT. Your doctor may have an occupational therapist that she recommends, but ultimately the decision is up to you.

Your insurance company may have OTs who are in network, but you can consider paying out of network or paying cash.

Ask Your Doctor's Office

As mentioned above, you should be aware that you do not need to utilize the OT recommended by your M.D.

office, but you can leverage your doctor's help to find OTs in the area. Simply ask for a list of possible options.

Ask Your Friends

If any of your friends has received occupational therapy, ask about their particular therapist. If you have friends who are occupational therapists, physical therapists, or speech therapists, consider asking them for a recommendation.

Many therapists are aware of the reputation and skill set of fellow rehabilitation professionals in the area.


If you utilize an online search, I recommend adding another signifier to your search, such as "pediatric," "hand," or "outpatient" occupational therapist.

Health Grades is another search option; you can search by proximity, best reviews, and specialties. The list may not be comprehensive, but it can give you a good starting point.

Check License and Certification

If the occupational therapist that you locate has the credential OTR/L, this means she is an occupational therapist (OT) who is (R) registered and (L) licensed. You can do your homework to make sure both her registration and license are active. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy grants registration. You can look up registered occupational therapists and certified occupational therapy assistants here.

Many states have a license look-up option on the state website. For example, here is the license look-up page for the state of Illinois.

Search for a Specialist

There are numerous specialties within the field of OT. If you are looking for an OT with a particular specialty, check out this list of specialty certifications and add the corresponding credential to your search.

You can also go here for links to many of the certifying agencies. Many of these agencies have a therapist look up option. If they don't, contact the agency to find a certified therapist near you.

Narrowing in on the Right OT

Finding possible OTs is one matter, but finding the right OT is another. Don't be afraid to call the OT practice and ask for a phone interview, before scheduling a full evaluation. Many therapists have the option to screen a patient before performing an evaluation.

A screen allows an OT to assess whether you are a good candidate for their services. But, it works both ways, it is equally important that you ascertain your OT is a good fit for your needs.

Here are some questions you can ask.