If you're trying to choose between going to an occupational therapy assistant school or a physical therapy assistant school, but aren't quite sure how the career fields differ or which is right for you, you're not alone.
It can be hard to wrap your head around these two types of therapies and how they help people to live more healthy and full lives. Here are three ways to begin to differentiate and compare OT vs PT.
Focusing on Goals, Not Medical Conditions
Yes, both occupational therapists and physical therapists work toward goals that have to do with medical conditions, but it's nuanced. Here's how...
Students in an occupational therapy assistant school program learn that OT focuses on their client's life goals. In OT, clients work toward the goal of maximizing their potential to live life fully by doing activities that give them independence and a sense of purpose. You see, the "occupation" in occupational therapy refers to the activities that "occupy" a person's time.
For example, if you loved dogs, but were no longer able to walk your dog, you may feel devastated. Together with an OT professional, you could find ways to achieve your goal of caring for your dog. Your OT team would suggest ways to walk your dog safely regardless of the medical condition that caused you to stop walking in the first place.
Unlike OT professionals, PT professionals try to help heal or correct physical conditions by increasing or restoring the body's ability to move, and to prevent disability. You might go to PT to regain muscle strength in your legs after an accident or injury. When your legs are stronger from PT exercises, you might walk your dog as you once did.
PT professionals put their knowledge and skills to use with therapy treatment plans that involve specific physical exercises. Physical therapy often looks like a workout, but it's much more than that. The physical training used in PT is geared toward things such as a person's range of motion, joint mobility, strength, and flexibility.
OT: Lifestyle Activities Instead of Physical Exercises
If you choose to attend an occupational therapy assistant school, you'll find that your education will include learning about the types of OT interventions. Think of interventions as therapy actions designed to improve someone's ability to perform activities related to their lifestyle and daily living.
You will take a whole-person approach to using your creativity. And you will apply your OT skills and knowledge to help clients:
- Adapt to life challenges
- Build on a wide range of abilities
- Engage in meaningful activities.
Function vs. Motion
Another way to look at OT vs PT is by seeing them as either enhancing function (OT) or enhancing movement (PT) to change lives for the better.
In occupational therapy assistant school, you study how to increase someone's ability to function (perform) daily activities.
In physical therapy, it's less about why someone needs to move their body, and more about the motion available to a person's muscles, joints, and ligaments in general.
If you had a medical condition needing these therapies, you might think of a PT as primarily helping you gain the strength and ability to raise your arms above your head. OT would help you to reach a book on a high shelf or put dishes away in an upper kitchen cabinet even if you couldn't raise your arms high enough to complete these tasks (or functions).
Considering an Occupational Therapy Assistant School?
Now that you have a better understanding of OT vs PT, it's time to explore ways to earn your degree and enter healthcare.
If attending occupational therapy assistant school sounds right for you, know this: an occupational therapy career is life-changing for you and your therapy clients and professionally and financially rewarding for you.
Because OTAs work directly with individuals, an OTA's strong interpersonal abilities – compassion, creative thinking, active listening, etc. – contribute to their success. Typical responsibilities of OTAs:
- Implementing the recommended treatment plan for individuals
- Creating adaptive tools or discovering new ways to achieve the individual's goals
- Communicating progress and sharing observations with the occupational therapist.
OTAs have a unique skill set, and the demand for OTAs is estimated at more than 25 percent through 2026. The median salary for OTAs is more than $59,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with first-year OTA salaries at more than $45,000.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university located in Overland Park, Kansas. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree Program at CUKC includes 16 core courses along with four-to-five months of fieldwork experience. Coursework is presented in eight-week segments to immerse students in their class subjects.
At Cleveland University-Kansas City, the OTA program classes start in spring, summer, and fall each year. Students who complete all required prerequisite coursework at CUKC are guaranteed admission into the OTA degree program, provided that all criteria for the OTA program are met, and all other considerations are satisfactory.
Connect with an advisor today, or download this free ebook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.