Is Occupational Therapy Different From Physical Therapy?

Is Occupational Therapy Different From Physical Therapy?

Our Team Members | Prayatna Child Development Centre - Niveditha Varma

Written By

Nivedita Varma, BOT
Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are often confused with each other, by aspiring students, individuals receiving occupational or physical therapy, and by most individuals who hear about the two therapies. It is understandable as they work in similar areas and most often, they work in close association. These two fields are similar but have key differences as well and are unique in their ways of treatment. Let us find out more by exploring the similarities and differences between the two therapies!

Is occupational therapy similar to physical therapy? 

Occupational therapy, as well as physical therapy, are both rehabilitative sciences and their end goals are to help people live active, healthy, and productive life. In many settings, there is an overlap between the two fields which makes them appear similar. 

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are both designed to help people recover from illness, injury, or surgery and effectively function in daily life. The truth is these two fields complement each other in dealing with a wide range of limitations and impairments and help optimize an individual’s performance. Though the focus of these two fields may differ, they both work to improve a patient’s quality of life.

This might make you wonder, what is the difference between the two? 

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

Though both fields are alike, each field has its uniqueness. Here are 3 main differences: 

  • Occupational therapists focus on improving skills or adapting to the environment to help a person perform day-to-day activities while physical therapists focus on the effects of illness. 
  • Occupational therapists work on the functional aspects of a person’s everyday life. They help improve a person’s ability to perform everyday activities of life including dressing, bathing, and eating. Physical therapists would focus more on the specific areas of difficulty and use therapeutic exercises and other techniques to improve or restore movement.
  • Occupational therapy provides an integrated approach, where the person, their mental well-being, their surrounding physical and social environment, and the context are all taken into consideration. The overall goal is to achieve the highest degree of independence possible in their daily life. Physical therapy uses treatment techniques that are designed to reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability.

For example, an individual recovering from a stroke would receive treatment from an occupational therapist to help him/her manage daily life activities like eating, bathing, and getting dressed independently. The physical therapist, on the other hand, would provide exercises to strengthen the client’s muscles for walking, standing, and other movements.

Benefits and limitations of occupational therapy

Every profession has its benefits and barriers, and it is important to address them as well. Listed below are some benefits and barriers of occupational therapy: 

Occupational therapy offers many benefits, and what is most significant is that anyone can overcome their everyday struggles with the help of an occupational therapist.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • An occupational therapist can be a trusted confidant 
  • Occupational therapy is client-centered (client’s choice and interest play a prime role)
  • Helps you achieve the highest degree of independence 
  • Improves your quality of life and well-being 
  • Reduces the burden on the caregiver 
  • Adapts the environment for better performance in daily life 

The barrier to occupational therapy is that most people do not know what an Occupational therapist does. Besides, the term ‘occupation’ is often confused with the term ‘job’ and this leads to a perceived lack of need for occupational therapy services. 

What is unique about Occupational therapy? 

Occupational therapists will always say their job is unique if asked, and it’s true! Occupational therapy is a profession that truly views the person holistically. OTs are equipped with the necessary skills to help an individual in all aspects of their life – mentally, physically, and spiritually. An individual has different roles to play in life and all the roles that are affected are addressed by an occupational therapist.

For example, an occupational therapist treating a person recovering from a disease will not just look at their physical performance, but take into account their mental health, relationship with others, cultural values, beliefs, and interests. They also consider the person’s loved ones and how that can affect recovery. This means they provide strategies for the family members as well, which includes educating them about the condition, the progress, what to expect, and how to facilitate recovery at home. To summarize, the aim is to enable the person to experience health in all facets, not to simply eliminate signs of illness.

Is Occupational therapy different from other healthcare professions?

In healthcare, all professions display some degree of overlap in terms of their roles. But each profession plays a distinct and unique role. What makes Occupational therapy different from other professions is that the focus is on the person as a whole and not just the injury, ailment, or disability the person has.

Occupational therapy is a client-centered profession that promotes health and well-being through occupations that are meaningful and important to the person from reading the morning news to spending quality time with the family, or performing self-care activities like bathing, brushing, dressing, or even leisure activities like gardening, playing badminton, dancing, swimming, etc. An occupational therapist can bring back meaning to your life through occupations that are meaningful to you. 


Both occupational therapy and physical therapy share a common goal to improve the mobility and daily functioning of an individual. What sets occupational therapy different is the focus on the person as a whole and the contribution to their day-to-day occupations that make the person’s life meaningful.

Hope this blog has helped you get a fair picture of the differences and similarities between occupational and physical therapies. Should you have any queries or would like to know more about occupational therapy or physical therapy, chat with us, or call us on 9746303555.

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