The healthcare field is exploding with opportunities these days. Not only are traditional positions like doctors and nurses in high demand, but there are also tons of new and emerging career fields all focused on wellness.

Some of the most exciting fields in the healthcare sector involve therapeutic healing. People who have undergone surgery, who have a disability, or who have any other sort of injury or condition all rely on therapy as a secondary means of treatment. Various therapists provide secondary support to professional medical providers, helping bridge the gap between initial treatment and full healing.

Within these therapy career fields, there can be some confusion, though. Namely: many people want to know the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy. They may also want to know where massage therapy lies on the spectrum of alternative treatment. The answers to these questions can help them decide whether to go to massage therapy school, a physical therapy aide training program, or another type of trade program to pursue their interests.

While all three fields offer important services to individuals who need healing and therapeutic support, the choice between them can differ a lot. The qualifications of a certified massage therapist, for instance, will be slightly different than someone who wants to become a physical therapist’s aide.

To help you decide what career path would work best for you and what physical therapy or massage therapy school you should consider enrolling in, take a look at the differences between the professions below.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy may be the most familiar and recognizable of the three professional fields being discussed. The general public tends to have a good grasp on how certain stretches and strengthening exercises can help people recover from surgery, injury, or a debilitating condition.

Physical therapists also assist people of varying abilities to improve their balance, strength, and coordination. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines a physical therapist as, “movement experts who optimize quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.”

One central concept to physical therapy is that it is a form of treatment that doesn’t use medicine or surgery. From this perspective, physical therapy can also include massage therapy, heat therapy, and a number of other alternative treatment modes.

Becoming a physical therapist requires at least a Bachelor’s degree and completion of a training and certification program. Upon completion of physical therapy school, which usually takes 3-4 years of rigorous study and testing, graduates obtain the credential “Doctor of Physical Therapy.”

This training allows a physical therapist to diagnose underlying causes to the patient’s condition and recommend a training program as treatment.

Physical therapy aides can pursue a well-paying career in healthcare without having to go through that level of schooling. They can start with a high school diploma or GED and then complete a physical therapy aide training program to learn the basics of the profession.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is all about working within people’s abilities to give them the means to fully engage in daily life. 

Occupational therapist recommend exercises, devices, specific movement techniques and other strategies to help individuals overcome the difficulties they have with certain tasks or movements. 

Sometimes, these therapies are temporary while the patient heals or waits for their condition to improve. Other times, occupational therapists know that the patient’s condition is lifelong, and so they will help the person develop strategies to adjust their lifestyle so that they can be fully capable of engaging in necessary tasks.

Another way to think about the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy is that physical therapy usually has a goal of getting you to an improved level of movement and physical health. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, aims to make your life at home and work easier while working within the condition you already have.

Starting an occupational therapy career is similar to becoming a physical therapist, only the amount of school required is even higher. Occupational therapists must start with a Bachelor’s degree and then complete a Master’s degree program in Occupational Therapy.

Becoming an occupational therapy aide often requires just a high school diploma or GED. Employers will provide on-the-job training, often involving assistive devices and other equipment. Some employers may expect certifications or a number of hours of experience, so be sure to review job requirements carefully.

What Is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is a general term that can refer to any form of massage service. 

However, the term is being used more and more often in the context of alternative medical treatment. Certified massage therapists have knowledge of anatomy and various forms of pressure, allowing them to target areas of tension and injury in patients. Their services help alleviate pain, improve mobility, and allow patients to overcome certain types of physical limitations related to injury or repetitive stress.

The Mayo Clinic says that massage therapy can provide a number of measurable health benefits for conditions such as:

  • Joint pain
  • Sports injuries
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Chronic pain (Fibromyalgia)
  • Headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Anxiety
  • Myofascial pain syndrome

The requirements to become a massage therapist vary from state to state. In California, you don’t have to have a certification to work as a massage therapist, whereas in Nevada you do.

Obtaining a certification in California can help you apply to a wider number of jobs, earn more confidence from your clients, and compete for higher-paying positions. 

The California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC) offers a certification to those who have completed at least 500 hours at an approved massage therapy school. 100 hours of this course work must include “anatomy and physiology, contraindications, health and hygiene, and business and ethics.”

Seeking an Employment Training Program for a Well-Rounded Set of Therapy Skills

Getting a job in healthcare therapy is definitely possible when you have a high school diploma or GED. First, you can improve your prospects by taking a training program that offers hands-on experience along with instruction in the basics of therapeutic healthcare.

A comprehensive program, like the one offered at Center for Employment Training’s Salinas campus, will cover:

  • Biological Fundamentals for Health
  • Common Disorders and Treatments
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Massage Theory & Practice
  • Administrative Techniques
  • Customer Service

This education can give you a broad foundation in therapeutic healthcare, opening the doors to a wide number of possible careers.

With just a little bit of training and lots of passion, you could soon find your way into assisting countless people to improve their lives, manage their pain, and become better adapted than ever to any obstacles that lie in the way of a complete, fulfilling life.