Occupational Therapist vs Physical Therapist: Why The Two Fields Overlap?

Occupational therapists as well as physical therapists are skilled healthcare professionals who help the patients improve physical function and relieve their pain.

For instance, they can assist a stroke survivor in regaining mobility, strength, and confidence so that he or she can recover.

However, when you analyze these professions properly, you will find that they are different from each other. On the most basic level, occupational therapy applies a more holistic approach while treating a patient in order to help him or her live an independent, productive, and satisfying life.

Occupational therapists often work alongside physical therapists as a part of a team for treating patients suffering from conditions like tendon or ligament problems, arthritis, back pain, bone injury, cerebral palsy, etc. Let’s move on to explore the similarities and differences between these professions.

According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary of an occupational therapist (OT) was $72,320 in 2010. For physical therapist, it was $76,310 per year.

Moreover, the employment for OTs and PTs is expected to increase 33% and 39 % (from 2010 to 2020) respectively.

Similarities between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

  • Both the professions require strong communication and problem solving skills.
  • Occupational therapists and physical therapists work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and so on.
  • They examine the patient and make a treatment plan based on the evaluation.
  • Apart from the clinical practice, both the professions also include education, consultation, research and administration.
  • Both are licensed professionals who provide care for people of all ages.

In order to become a Physical Therapist (PT) you need to have a Doctoral degree in physical therapy; for becoming an Occupational Therapist, you need to earn a Master’s degree in occupational therapy.

How Occupational Therapy is different from Physical Therapy

  • Physical therapists usually focus on treating injuries, helping the patients regain physical functionality and improve their quality of life for daily activities.

    Occupational therapists, too, are concerned with these aspects. Plus, they also work to prevent further injury.

    However, they do not treat the injury directly but assist the patient with life skills. Thus, though they may use the same techniques as physical therapists yet, their goals are somewhat different.

  • Another difference between the two is that physical therapy usually deals with movement dysfunctions and chronic health conditions whereas occupational therapy deals with the occupations of work, self care and leisure.

    They work with clients who have issues associated with physical, mental, emotional, as well as social problems. Thus, OTs deal with patients suffering from illnesses, disabilities, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, depression, drug abuse, and so on.

    Moreover, they help people with disorders and disabilities in carrying out basic tasks and activities such as washing, bathing, getting dressed, cooking, eating, etc.

  • Apart from examining the patient and monitoring his or her progress, occupational therapists also evaluate the patient’s home or workplace to help him or her perform everyday tasks with as much independence as possible.

    Thus, the occupational therapist may recommend modifications in the environment. For example, an OT may recommend wrist stabilizers, self-opening scissors, special toilet seats, and other adaptive tools, or prescribe special equipments such as wheelchairs. Therefore, these healthcare professionals need to be more observant and innovative.

    Watch this video explaining the differences between occupational therapy and physical therapy.

  • More often than not, occupational therapists design and recommend special devices so that the patients can control the environment and perform their tasks independently so that they do not have to rely on others. Physical therapists, on the other hand, use equipments to stimulate healing.
  • Physical therapists usually lay emphasis on facilitating basic motor skills, gross motor skill, mobility skills, etc. whereas occupational therapists emphasize on improving fine motor skills, self-care skills, sensory motor skills, and so on.

References:

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Occupational Therapists

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Physical Therapists

American Physical Therapy Association, Discovering Physical Therapy

The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., About Occupational Therapy

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