What is the difference between occupational therapy and physiotherapy?

29 April 2022

Students often ask us, “What’s the difference between physiotherapy and occupational therapy?” While there are significant differences between the two professions, there are many areas where they overlap.

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physiotherapy?
OT can help kids with various needs improve their cognitive, physical, sensory, and motor skills

Physiotherapy (or physical therapy) is a health care profession with a focus on assessing, improving and restoring physical function.

Occupational therapy also looks at physical function, but extends this to consider how this affects your ability to engage in occupation such as daily activities, leisure and work.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy also addresses the range of requirements for the patient including their mental and emotional well-being. Occupational therapists also have the knowledge and training to work with people with a mental illness or emotional problems such as depression and/or stress.

Occupational therapists are also trained in adapting the environment or prescribing special equipment to help people reach their full potential.
OTs often work alongside physiotherapists, as part of a team of health professionals. While some areas may seem to overlap, (for example hand therapy), occupational therapists use and adapt occupations to treat or prevent occupational dysfunction due to physical, mental or environmental factors.

You will find occupational therapists working with patients across the human lifespan from infants to aged care and end of life. OTs work across the spectrum of services from mental health to acute medical and surgical services in various areas:

  • Aged care
  • Child health services
  • Community health services
  • Disability services
  • Schools and tertiary education
  • Workplace health
  • Public and private hospitals
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Independent living centres
  • Mental health services
  • Non-government organizations
  • Private practice
  • Research and development

Practicing as an OT
To become an occupational therapist, you must undertake an occupational therapy degree recognized by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) and by the Association of Canadian Occupational Therapy Regulator Organizations (ACOTRO).

Graduates who have met all requirements, including completion of a minimum number of qualified fieldwork hours (1,000), are eligible to become licensed to practice in Canada. If you study OT in Australia, you’ll begin the registration process with the Association of Canadian Occupational Therapy Regulator Organizations (ACOTRO) before applying to your provincial regulator.

physiotherapist working with patient with ball
Learn more about physiotherapy degrees

What is Physiotherapy?

A physiotherapist’s purpose is to improve a person’s quality of life by using a variety of treatments to restore function, help alleviate pain, in the case of permanent injury or disease, to lessen the effects of any dysfunction. Physios are highly trained healthcare professionals can focus on back and sports-related injuries, or they can specialize in other areas, like an occupational therapist.

Specialization can be achieved by practicing physical therapists after meeting requirements set the Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators and your provincial authority. There are many physical therapy specialties to consider, and each one has its own unique purpose and set of responsibilities. Here are just a few areas to consider:

  • Pediatrics
  • Women’s health
  • Sports
  • Electrotherapy
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  • Orthopedics
  • Geriatric
  • Neurology

Practicing as an Physiotherapist

Like OT, physiotherapy is a regulated profession in Canada. That means physiotherapists must have a licence to practice. In Canada, provincial and territorial organizations called regulatory colleges are responsible for licensing physiotherapists.

All the physiotherapy programs OzTREKK features are accredited in Australia, so you could practice immediately in Australia or return to Canada as many students do.

In order to practice physiotherapy in Canada, you must register with the physiotherapy regulatory body in the province you intend to practice. The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) recognizes physiotherapy degrees from Australian universities, as long as you meet the requirements including completion of a minimum number of clinical hours.

Studying Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy in Australia

OzTREKK represents several world-renowned physio and OT programs. Australian graduate-entry physiotherapy degrees are highly sought after by Canadian university graduates with academic backgrounds in kinesiology, health sciences, and human kinetics. Pssst! Did you know Australia is world-renowned for its leading-edge physiotherapy research and practice?

At Australian universities, physiotherapy is a strong academic and clinical discipline, and Australian research in physiotherapy drives teaching and learning. This provides Australia’s physiotherapy students with opportunities to be educated in contemporary, evidence-based clinical practice!

If you’re interested in a career as an occupational therapist, five of OzTREKK’s Australian universities offer a master’s-level qualification OT program, and seven universities offer a four-year Bachelor of Occupational Therapy degree.


Would you like to know more about studying occupational therapy or physiotherapy? Contact OzTREKK’s rehab sciences admissions officers at rehabsci@oztrekk.com for more info. We’ll walk you through the whole process!