Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapist

Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapist-900

What does an occupational therapist do? 

Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that provides for people with many chronic conditions.

The main priority for an occupational therapist is to improve their ability to perform the daily activities that they need to do within their social life, work-life, and home life.  

Occupational therapists work with people to help facilitate successful adaptations to their lifestyle to improve their current health status.

They also want to make sure that they don’t lose any more physical or mental function than they already have.  

Therapists will want to help their patients have more independence even though they have a disability or problem.

Occupational therapists work with patients on fine motor and cognitive skills to perform tasks that are meaningful to them. 

The programs and therapy provided by an occupational therapist will also help reduce healthcare costs for the patients.

An occupational therapist can assess people of any age is that have problems and need help with their independence in their daily lives. 

This is a type of job where you are constantly going to be helping people.  

The main thing that is important to understand is that occupational therapy is there to improve the client’s ability to do everyday activities.  

They focus on physical and psychological aspects to help patients live a happier life.  

The therapist is not just solely focusing on improving the physical aspects of the human body because that is what a physical therapist does.  

An occupational therapist is treating the whole person whether it is the physical aspect or not. They want to improve everyday activities with the patient so it helps them live a happier life. 

What does a physical therapist do? 

Physical therapists are people who are experts in the movement of patients. Their job is to optimize the quality of life of their patience and focus on exercise, hands-on care, and educating the patients.  

They are capable of diagnosing and treating individuals of all ages.  

A physical therapist can help individuals with medical and other health problems that primarily limit their abilities to move.  

The physical therapist focuses a lot on just the physical aspects of the patient. This is where they are primarily focused and where they have the most expertise.  

This is the main difference between a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.  

An occupational therapist is focused on the overall health of patients’ everyday functional needs, where physical therapists are normally only focused on the physical aspect of the patient. 

For more reading on how to become an occupational therapist, click the link.

Board Exams 

Physical Therapists 

  • Physical therapists have a board exam as well. It is called the Federation of the state board for physical therapy (FSBPT).  
  • You must pass the exam to be a certified physical therapist. Once again, this may add some overall time to how much time it is going to take you to become a physical therapist.  

You will have to put in the time and dedication to study for the board exam and make sure that you pass it. The exams are usually pretty hard 

Occupational Therapists 

You need to do so much schooling to prepare for the exam to become a certified occupational therapist. 

  • There is also fieldwork where you need to meet certain requirements laid out by the educational program you are attending and is accredited by ACOTE.  
  • NBC-OT is the board exam that you will take to become an OT 
  • You must also meet state requirements for licensure, certification, or registration. 

What body parts do each treat?  

Typically an occupational therapist is going to specialize in certain physical aspects of the body. Their main specializations are going to be in certain conditions that affect the hand, wrist, and elbow.  

The reasoning for this is because they are focused on how you can live your daily life the best that you can. These are the main physical aspects that you will need good use to perform many functions in your daily activities.  

Whereas physical therapists are going to treat many things that are spine-related, knee, shoulder, feet and hips.  

Physical therapists will work a lot with hips, knees, ankles, feet, etc. However, in general, both professions are going to treat the shoulder.  

This is another example to help you decide which would work better for you. If you are interested in helping with the knee, spine, hip, and feet, then maybe you should choose physical therapy. 

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy assistants? 

To be either one of these types of assistants, you are going to have to get a two-year associate’s degree. Once you become either a physical or occupational therapy assistant, your job is to help the occupational or physical therapist.  

This is why it is equally important for you to figure out which type of therapy that you really think will interest you.  

You may not be the actual therapist, but you are still going to be working with the same types of things with the patients.

You’re obviously not going to be able to do as much as a therapist because of the different degrees and certifications that they have, but your job is still equally as important.  

Being a therapy assistant is a great job to look into because it helps you get into the medical field while only having to go to a short amount of schooling.  

If you were interested in doing occupational or physical therapy, and you don’t feel that you have the time or money to go to as much schooling as is required, then this is a great option for you. 

How long does it take to become an occupational therapist

To be an occupational therapist, you must get your master’s degree. Master’s degrees are typically two years but can differ depending on what you are going for.  

This means that to get your master’s degree, you must first have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree and typical bachelor programs are four years.  

A degree in OT, in general, will take around 6 years to become an OT.  

This estimate of six years is assuming that you do not need to take any extra time during your bachelor’s degree.  

Only 40% of students graduate with their undergraduate degree in four years or under so it is very common to stay an extra semester or two to finish things up. 

It is especially common if you are taking harder math or science courses as you might do this in your undergraduate career when prepping for OT school.  

As long as you don’t spend any extra time in your undergraduate career or grad school or take any gap years, then it should take you a total of six years to become an occupational therapist.  

The NBC-OT is the board exam that you will take after your Master’s degree program to actually become an occupational therapist.  

Each individual person can decide how long they want to take to prepare and study for this exam, so this can add time to your overall process of becoming an OT as well.  

How long does it take to become a physical therapist? 

Overall it takes around seven years to become a physical therapist. Most actual physical therapy programs can range anywhere from 30 to 36 months.  

This is obviously in addition to you getting your bachelor’s degree that you have to have to even apply to physical therapy school.  

This means that this is another three years on top of the BA which takes four years and that puts you at a total of seven years.  

Just as we mention with OT you need to take into account that it sometimes takes people more than four years to finish their undergraduate education.  

You also have to put the time in to pass your board exam at the end of your physical therapy program as well.  

Everyone has a different path when it comes to college, so you don’t need to always base how long it’s going to take you off of everyone else.  

You may be able to graduate from your undergraduate degree within three years or five years, you never know what’s going to happen. But, if everything goes as planned it would take you seven years to become a physical therapist. 

Does an occupational therapist make more than a physical therapist? 

Salaries can really change depending on what location you are doing these types of jobs.  

However overall the average salary of an occupational therapist is somewhere around $85,000 per year.  

The average salary for a physical therapist is also around $85,000 per year.  

This means that in essence, you are going to be making the same amount of money either way.  

You should definitely focus on which therapy you think would suit your strengths and passions better. Either way, you were going to be helping people and making a decent salary. 

As for being an assistant, a physical therapy assistant is going to make somewhere around $50,000 per year. 

An occupational therapy assistant is going to be making somewhere around $58,000 per year.  

There is a little bit of a difference between these two types of assistants.  

If you are deciding to go down the route of being as an assistant, then you may want to take into consideration the differences in salaries.  

But once again, you should always be choosing what you want to do and where are your strengths and help you. 


Overall both of these careers are a great path to go down. You can learn a lot about science and health in your undergraduate career.  

If you are interested in learning more skills and certifications online, we recommend Coursera.

You can go on to professional school to get more in-depth about what kind of therapy you want to go into. It is important to take into consideration the differences and pick which one suits your personality. 

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