If you or an older adult you love has had surgery or is in the process of recovering from a serious illness, your physician might recommend therapy services. Physical therapy and occupational therapy are often a critical part of a rehabilitation plan. While people often use the two terms interchangeably, they really are separate forms of treatment that focus on different goals.
Physical Therapy Goals and Treatments
Physical therapy focuses on treating the physical impairment that resulted from the illness or injury. For example, if an older adult experienced a stroke that affected movement on one side of their body, the physical therapist would develop a plan of care to help the patient return to their highest practical level of function and mobility.
Therapy sessions would focus on using a variety of techniques to help the patient recover their strength and physical abilities. A physical therapist might utilize walking techniques or a stationary bike with their patient to build up endurance. Isometrics, range of motion exercises, and stretching are also common.
Working with an Occupational Therapist
By contrast, occupational therapy helps people regain the skills they need to maintain their independence. Therapists help patients recover lost skills or learn new techniques for working around permanent impairments. Therapy time might be spent helping a patient learn to use their left hand if function in their right hand was irreparably damaged by a stroke, for example.
Occupational therapists (OT) often utilize adaptive tools such as door knob extenders or easy grip silverware. The goal is to help the patient perform the activities of daily living (ADLs) independently. An OT can also help patients find ways to continue favorite hobbies like gardening or cooking despite their disability.
Education and Training for Therapists
While physical and occupational therapists are both licensed professionals, their education and degrees are different.
- Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT): Most physical therapy schools require students to earn a Bachelor’s degree before entering in
+to the DPT program. It typically takes three years of post-college education to complete this advanced degree. Students spend about 80% of their time in classrooms and the other 20% in clinical training. In the past a student could earn Master of Physical Therapy or Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree, but those programs are no longer offered.
- Master’s or Doctoral Degrees in Occupational Therapy: Students interested in an occupational therapy career can pursue either a Master’s degree or a Doctorate. Admission to the Doctoral program requires completion of a Bachelor’s degree first. After completing either of these advanced degrees at an ACOTE-accredited school, students must successfully pass the national certification exam.
Learn More about Home Care Occupational Therapy Services
If you would like to learn more about occupational therapy, we invite you to visit our Occupational Therapy Resource Center. We share information to help seniors and their adult children better understand the role occupational therapy can play in rehabilitation.