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Difference Between Occupational & Physical Therapists

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Physical therapists provide examination, evaluation, diagnosis and interventions for patients who have impairments or change in their physical function due to illness, disease or surgery. Occupational therapists help patients to improve their everyday living and working skills. Their patients may have physical, mental, developmental or emotional disabilities. Occupational therapists’ focus is to help patients become more independent and successful.

What Physical Therapists Do

Physical therapists examine patients, then test and measure their posture, muscle performance, balance, coordination, strength and range of motion. They then develop treatment plans with projected goals and outcomes. The plan’s intent is to increase strength, balance, coordination and endurance. Other measures like hot packs, cold compresses, electrical stimulation and ultrasound may be used to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Traction and deep tissue massage are other methods used. Educating patients in the use of assistance devices such as crutches, wheelchairs and prosthetics may also be part of the physical therapist's job.

Education for Physical Therapy

Training to become a physical therapist requires an advanced degree. Programs leading to a master’s degree or doctorate are available at select colleges and universities. Courses include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and pharmacology. Physical therapists need to be licensed in the state in which they practice, and continuing education is required.

Employment for Physical Therapists

Employment prospects are expected to rise for physical therapists as more premature infants with problems require treatment, and as older patients undergo more corrective surgeries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists’ median annual wages are $72,000, as of May 2008.

What Occupational Therapists Do

Occupational therapists may work exclusively with a particular population that needs assistance, such as those with cerebral palsy, the elderly, children or those with substance abuse problems. They must do an assessment of their patients' needs and design therapy programs to help them overcome deficiencies. They may help with time management, budgeting, listening, following directions or social interaction. Almost any kind of life skill is part of the occupational therapist's work.

Education for Occupational Therapy

A master’s degree is required to be an occupational therapist. Course work includes physical, biological and behavioral sciences, as well as practical clinical work to increase therapeutic skills. Licensure is required in all states. Certification is voluntary, as of April 2010.

Employment for Occupational Therapists

Employment prospects for occupational therapists are expected to grow faster than other jobs. An aging population will result in an increased need for therapeutic services. Median annual wages for occupational therapists are $66,000, according to the BLS, as of May 2008.