Job Search

Occupational Therapist vs. Social Worker: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Occupational therapists and social workers are both professionals who help people in need. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between these two job titles. In this article, we discuss the differences between occupational therapists and social workers, and we provide additional resources you may find helpful.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists help people of all ages live their lives to the fullest by teaching them how to overcome physical, mental or social obstacles. They work with patients who have conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, carpal tunnel syndrome and more. Occupational Therapists help patients regain skills they need for daily living such as dressing, bathing, eating and using the restroom. They also work with patients to improve their cognitive skills, such as memory, concentration and decision-making. In addition, Occupational Therapists help patients develop social skills and coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety.

What is a Social Worker?

Social Workers are professionals that help people cope with challenges in their lives. They provide emotional support and guidance to individuals, families and groups who are dealing with relationship problems, illness, addiction, unemployment, poverty or other difficult life circumstances. Social Workers also advocate on behalf of their clients to ensure they have access to the resources they need. They may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, mental health clinics, government agencies or private practices.

Occupational Therapist vs. Social Worker

Here are the main differences between an occupational therapist and a social worker.

Job Duties

Occupational therapists help patients regain the ability to perform everyday tasks, such as bathing, cooking and dressing. They do this by working with them to overcome physical limitations and teach them new ways to complete daily activities. Occupational therapists also work with patients on social skills, such as how to communicate effectively, make friends and manage conflict in appropriate ways.

In contrast, social workers help patients address issues related to poverty, abuse, neglect, mental illness and other forms of trauma. They may assist patients in finding housing, securing food or seeking counseling. Social workers also provide support to patients by listening to them, empathizing with their situations and helping them develop positive coping strategies.

Job Requirements

Occupational therapists typically need a master’s degree in occupational therapy, which takes about two years to complete. Some programs may require students to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field first, such as psychology or kinesiology. In addition to their academic coursework, students must also complete clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience working with patients. After completing their education, occupational therapists must obtain a state license before they can begin practicing.

Social workers usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, although some jobs may require a master’s degree. Social work programs typically take four years to complete and include courses on topics like human behavior, social welfare policy and research methods. Students also participate in internships or field placements to gain practical experience working with clients. After graduating, social workers must obtain a state license before they can start practicing.

Work Environment

Occupational therapists and social workers both work in a variety of environments. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes or other medical facilities to help patients recover from injuries or illnesses. Occupational therapists also work in schools, helping students with disabilities learn life skills. Social workers often work for non-profit organizations that provide counseling services to people who can’t afford them.

Occupational therapists typically work more hours than social workers because they’re usually on call 24 hours a day. This means that occupational therapists are available to assist patients at any time. In contrast, social workers typically work regular business hours during the week.


Both occupational therapists and social workers use people skills in their jobs. They need to be able to build rapport with clients, understand their needs and communicate effectively.

Both professionals also need to have strong organizational skills. Occupational therapists need to be able to keep track of patients’ progress, plan therapy sessions and maintain accurate records. Social workers often work with multiple clients at one time and need to be able to juggle different deadlines and appointments.

While both occupations require critical thinking skills, social workers may need to use these skills more frequently. This is because they often need to make decisions about whether or not a client is eligible for certain services or benefits. They also may need to advocate for their clients with other professionals, such as teachers or doctors.

Occupational therapists typically need to have more medical knowledge than social workers. This is because they need to understand how the human body works in order to design therapeutic exercises that will help patients recover from an injury or illness. They also may need to be familiar with common conditions, such as autism or cerebral palsy, to provide appropriate treatment.


Occupational therapists earn an average salary of $86,542 per year, while social workers earn an average salary of $61,736 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the type of work you do, your location and your level of experience.


Medication Technician vs. Pharmacy Technician: What Are the Differences?

Back to Job Search

Firmware Engineer vs. Software Engineer: What Are the Differences?