Therapy World

Difference Between an Occupational Therapist and Physiotherapist

After the question, so, what is Occupational Therapy? this is another question I get often. In a week, I get this question at least three times (no jokes). You should see me roll my eyes sometimes like “can’t you just ask google?” but then I reply them because I just enjoy talking.

Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Physical Therapists (PTs) are both in the business of rehabilitation. Although our practices overlap in few ways, we are different in lots of ways. In some settings, it can be hard to differentiate a physiotherapist from an occupational therapist because it can appear like they are doing the same thing. Most of the time, we work hand in hand in treating most cases. We are like sisters.

two women walking near food stalls

It will interest you to know that OT and PT were the same profession before they split into different professions- they were called reconstruction aides at the time. Their major task at the time was to rehabilitate veterans during the world war II.

Occupational therapy and physiotherapy practice can seem identical in some settings. For example, during an early intervention treatment for a child with cerebral palsy, they can both address function using play therapy like dangling a toy in front of a child to encourage the child to move. However, there are some unique differences between both professions.

The Differences

Now let’s talk about them.


Physiotherapist receive intensive training in body mechanics and how the body systems are affected by positions, movement and exercise. While Occupational therapist receive training across a broad scope of areas that enable them to improve their client’s participation in day to day activities. OTs help their client engage in daily activities like self-care, leisure, play, and socialization. OT interventions can involve physical exercises but will focus more on cognitive skills like memory, attention, concentration, organization, social skills, problem solving skills among many other things.

Most times, physiotherapist focus more on gross motor function during recovery while occupational therapist focus more on fine motor skills and cognitive skills to enable their clients perform the necessary tasks needed in their daily life.

Another difference between both professions is their treatment approach. Occupational therapist uses a holistic approach in their treatment approach. They do not just evaluate the person’s injury but also evaluate the interaction between a person, environment and occupation. In contrast, physiotherapist use physical modalities like ultrasound, shockwave therapy, intramuscular stimulation, active release technique and more to address a person’s injury.

Occupational therapist can also work in mental health settings because of their broad scope of knowledge. They are trained to treat cases like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities. Their intervention in these cases focuses on improving cognitive skills, self-care, and socialization.


You might be asking yourself, should I study physiotherapy or occupational therapy? Sincerely, both professions are wonderful and rewarding professions. However, you can do further research and choose the one that fits your career goals and personality the most.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment. Feel free to ask me questions too!

My name is Mabel. I am an Occupational therapist, who enjoys creating engaging contents. I love partying, eating, travelling and reading. And Oh, I am always available to talk business. Contact me!

One Comment

  • Òmotosho Jay Eff

    OT is an integral part of the health care delivery system of any Nation with a wider scope than hitherto envisaged. Their rehabilitative prowess in restoring clients with autism, c p, several other disabilities is second to none. I have directly benefited from this new group of professionals immensely. I therefore recommend them to parents who might need their professional touch relative to clients with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders.

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