There is often confusion about the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy, and for good reason. The two practices are similar in many ways and have a lot of overlap between fields.
Main difference, in a nutshell
The main difference is to recognize when trying to understand the difference between the two therapies is this: While occupational therapy strives to help people live as independently as possible, the goal of physical therapy is to assist an individual with pain relief and restoring motion and mobility. So how do you decide which is right for you?
In a general sense, we are more familiar with physical therapy then we are with occupational therapy. The reason for this is simple. While physical therapy is applicable to anyone after an injury or with a long-term health problem, occupational therapy is intended for individuals with long-term mental and/or physical impairments, or for those who have just experienced sudden health conditions like a stroke. This is where people get confused.
OT vs PT: an example of their differences
One of the simplest ways to look at it is addressing the difference when considering chronic back pain. Does someone with chronic back pain go to an Occupational Therapist or a Physical Therapist?
While a physical therapist can help with pain relief, an occupational therapist is trained to go a step further. Occupational Therapists are trained to help people find new ways and new tools to do challenging things in a new way. But modifying a physical environment to suit the needs of an individual is just one of the things that an Occupational Therapist does.
OT can help with more than physical environment and movement
Occupational Therapists are also trained to help people with mood disorders, personality disorders or drug addictions, to manage money, keep a daily planner and build social skills, in order to increase participation in a community and/or help organize their life in a helpful way. Although the two seem so similar, they are really important separately in order to make a world of difference.
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