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OT vs. OTA: What’s the Difference?

OTA with patient. Text reads OT vs. OTA: What's the Difference

Occupational therapy is a unique field that treats clients across all ages and walks of life and helps them to utilize the skills and tools they need to live a meaningful and independent life.

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) and occupational therapists (OTs) work together to empower people dealing with injury, illness, or disability to recover or adjust to their affliction. They treat the whole person and help them to be an active part of the solution, often working with the client to adapt their environment to work for them.

While carrying out similar duties, the professional and legal differences when it comes to an OT vs. OTA vary from state to state. We’ll compare the two roles below.

OT vs OTA: The Main Difference

One major difference between an OT vs. OTA is education level. Occupational therapists can spend four years completing a masters-level education, while you can earn your certification to become an OTA by completing a two-year associate degree, or an accelerated program like the 16-month Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program through St. Catherine University.

Occupational therapists are involved in all evaluation and goal-setting for patients, and certified occupational therapy assistants (COTAs) use the information gleaned from the evaluation and goals of the treatment plan. At some facilities, the certified OTA may have a greater caseload than the OT due to the extra paperwork required of the occupational therapist– a COTA must have an OT sign their daily notes, whereas OTs do not have to have a cosigner.

There are a few other key differences in what OTs and OTAs do, so let’s look at the day-to-day responsibilities of an occupational therapist.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Simply put, occupational therapists create plans that help people navigate everyday activities. They work with clients to help them find adaptive ways to continue doing the things they love.

Clients can be people of all ages who need assistance managing tasks through disabilities, injuries, aging and other issues. Occupational therapists help them to sustain the skills needed for daily living and independence.

A career as an occupational therapist can be busy but fulfilling. OTs see multiple patients a day, sometimes in several different settings. These can include hospitals, schools, private practices, client homes, job sites and more.

Because OTs work with so many different people, collaboration, teamwork, and excellent communication skills are imperative.

A typical day as an occupational therapist can consist of:

  • Becoming familiar with clients’ medical history
  • Observing a client completing tasks to establish a baseline
  • Creating treatment plans, setting goals and helping the client understand how to reach those goals
  • Demonstrating exercises and skills
  • Assessing a client’s home or workplace to find opportunities for improvement in accordance with client’s conditions
  • Speaking with and offering support to client’s family
OTA in nursing home setting

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?


OTs can also work in schools, like we mentioned above, to evaluate classrooms and help modify them to support children with disabilities. They may also work with school children to help them complete school activities, navigate social situations or help accommodate learning disabilities.

Mental Health Settings

Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, helping clients recover from trauma—emotional or physical. They may help people who have had trouble with addiction, emotional problems, or who have anxiety and other issues. They may also assist someone who’s been through a physical trauma like an accident and need help recovering and adapting as a result.

Occupational therapists can also be responsible for showing patients how to use adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. They can create plans and issue recommendations that empower clients to use these methods to remain independent.

Job Sites

On job sites, occupational therapists may be called into a workspace to recommend alternatives to make the space more functional and accommodating or help clients create feasible schedules and duties or manage their time. 


OTs can also work in hospitals alongside doctors and registered nurses or even in conjunction with physical therapists. In this setting, the OT will work with clients who suffer from chronic conditions or they will help rehabilitate patients as they recover from surgery.

OTA professional with a pediatric patient

What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Occupational therapy assistants partner with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan tailored to each client’s specific needs. Generally, the OT will evaluate the clients and create the plan, and the OTA will implement it.

OTAs are responsible for ensuring the clients are following their plan and completing the movements or adaptations correctly. OTAs monitor client progress and give feedback to the OT, who will use the feedback to update or improve the treatment plan if the patient is not getting effective results.

What Are the Duties of an OTA?

Occupational therapy assistants typically carry out many duties from client to client. Like an OT, they can work in numerous healthcare settings.

An OTA’s typical duties include:

  • Guiding patients through stretches and other exercises
  • Leading activities that foster coordination and socialization for kids with disabilities
  • Seeing that clients finish activities and tasks
  • Implementing equipment to assist clients in everyday tasks
  • Monitoring client progress and report it to the OT
  • Performing administrative tasks

Earn Your OTA Degree from St. Catherine in as Few as 16 Months

A career as an OTA is a fulfilling job that leaves a lasting impact on your clients’ lives. You can graduate ready to step into the healthcare industry in a few as 16 months through St. Kate’s online OTA program. Are you ready to start a rewarding journey into the world of occupational therapy?

If you’re considering becoming an occupational therapy assistant, you owe it to yourself to talk to an admissions counselor from the St. Catherine University Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. As the first university in the nation to offer an occupational therapy assistant program, we set the standard by which all OTA programs are judged.

Complete the form to talk to an admissions counselor about whether our program is right for you.

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*Lab Travel will be required for 6 weekends throughout the course of one year, you are not required to reside in this state.

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