The ABCs of Occupational Therapy Specialty Certifications, Credentials

Sarah Lyon

Even among health care professionals, it can be difficult to decode the alphabet soup that follows an occupational therapist’s name.

Unscrambling which credentials and certifications your occupational therapist (OT) holds will help you understand her training and qualifications to meet your particular need. You may even want to seek out an OT that holds a particular certification.


OTR/L is the standard occupational therapy credential and signifies that the professional is an “OT” who is “R,” registered by the national OT credentialing board, and “L,” licensed by your particular state.

If your occupational therapist is an OT/L, this indicates that she passed the national certification exam, but has not kept her certification with the board, which requires a fee and proof of continuing education every three years.

There is a good chance that an OT with the OTR/L credential has received her master’s, as this is currently the minimum education required for an OT to practice.

However, if your OT seems like she may have been practicing for around ten years or more, she may only hold a bachelor’s. OTs with bachelor’s degrees were grandfathered in 2007 when entry-level switched from the bachelor’s degree to the master’s degree.

Some OTs will indicate that they have obtained a master’s with the designation MOT, MA or MS.


The OTD credential indicates that the occupational therapist has received her doctorate in occupational therapy. Doctoral programs are becoming increasingly popular as the profession is contemplating the move toward an entry-level doctorate, though there are currently only 7 fully accredited entry-level doctoral programs compared to 161 entry-level masters programs.

An OT with a doctorate will have had about three years of post-baccalaureate education versus an MOT, who would only about 2.5 years. Doctoral programs vary in their focus, but the OTD practitioner may have had more training in clinical practice skills, research skills, administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, and/or theory development.


COTA stands for certified occupational therapy assistant. This credential indicates the professional holds an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program and passed the national certification exam. The scope of practice for a COTA varies from state to state, but in general, COTAs must work under the supervision of an occupational therapist, are able to deliver many of the same treatments, but not plot the overall course of care.

Specialty Certifications

A specialty certification often signifies that an OT has undergone additional training in a particular area, passed an exam, and kept up with continuing education related to the topic.

If you are looking for an OT who specializes in a particular area, here is a list of common certifications.

  • ATP- Assistive Technology Professional
  • ATP/SMS- Seating and Mobility Specialist
  • ATRIC- Aquatic Therapeutic Exercise Certification
  • C/NDT- Neuro-Developmental Treatment Certification
  • CAPS Certified Aging in Place Specialist
  • CAS- Certified Autism Specialist
  • CBIS- Certified Brain Injury Specialist 
  • CHT- Certified Hand Therapist
  • CIEE- Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator
  • CIRS- Certified Industrial Rehabilitation Specialist
  • CKTP- Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner
  • CLT- Certified Lymphedema Therapist
  • CRDS- Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist
  • CSRS- Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist
  • CVLT- Certified Low Vision Therapist
  • HPSC- Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist 
  • LSVT BIG- Lee Silverman Voice Treatment- BIG
  • SIPT- Sensory Integration and the Sensory Integration Praxis Test

The above certifications are regulated through different national and international organizations. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which is that national association for occupational therapists, also rewards the following certifications to practitioners who have logged 2000-5000 hours of work in a particular area and undertaking continuing education in that area.  

  • BCG- Board Certification in Gerontology
  • BCMH- Board Certification in Mental Health
  • BCP- Board Certification in Pediatrics
  • BCPR- Board Certification in Physical Rehabilitation
  • SCDCM- Specialty Certification in Driving and Community Mobility
  • SCEM- Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification
  • SCFES- Specialty Certification in Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing
  • SCLV- Specialty Certification in Low Vision
  • SCSS- Specialty Certification in School Systems
  • FAOTA- Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association

The FAOTA certification is an exception as it is received through a nomination process. The nominees are awarded the designation by the AOTA for making a significant contribution to the profession by utilizing special skills and/or knowledge in therapeutic practice, education, research, and/or administration.

This list is a general guide to credentials and certifications. There are certainly other credentials and certifications that an occupational therapy may hold. The best way to learn about your occupational therapist’s qualification to meet your particular need is to ask her.

Please note that these credentials and certifications apply only to occupational therapists in the United States. Each country has its own system for credentialing and awarding specialty certifications.

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