What is the difference between an occupational therapist and a recreational therapist?

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Both occupational therapists and recreational therapists can find employment in similar and/or the same work settings, sometimes even working together as a team to provide the best health care to their patients. The differences between the two types of therapy can be seen when looking at each profession's main focus or purpose when it comes to their patients:

  • The occupational therapist's goal focuses primarily upon helping patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities develop, recover, and improve the skills and activities that are essential for day-to-day living and working. This can be anything from conducting an in-home assessment to create a safe living environment, to helping them with everyday tasks such as getting dressed, moving around the house, cooking, eating, gardening, doing school work, using a computer, and driving. Responsibilities can include observing patients doing tasks, evaluating a patient's condition and needs, establishing a treatment plan, helping the patient with various tasks, educating a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient, evaluating progress, and reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers.

  • According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association, recreational therapy is a service used to "restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person's level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition." The recreational therapist's goal focuses primarily on enhancing patient's lives by way of leisure and play. Recreational therapists educate patients that have cognitive, social, physical, mental, or emotional limitations about the benefits of recreation. Often, these types of limitations can negatively affect an individual's attitude, motivation, and participation when it comes to recreational activities. By helping their patients develop and practice skills to improve their participation in leisure activities, their barriers towards these types of activities can be removed and the benefits of health and well-being can come into play. A recreational therapist's responsibilities can include assessing patient's needs, developing tailored programs for each patient, planning events, and evaluating progress.

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