How to Choose Between Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy

If you are looking for a career in which you can help people, you might be considering occupational therapy or speech pathology (speech/language therapy). The two helping professions are part of a triad of interventions for people with difficulty in movement or in communications and swallowing. As such, they are often complementary approaches. Still, how do you decide the right career path? The first step is understanding the differences between the careers. Let’s find out how to choose between speech pathology and occupational therapy.

Whether it be some combination of physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and occupational therapy or any other medical professional, communication and/or collaboration is a pillar of good health care. The World Health Organization states that collaborative practice strengthens health systems and improves health outcomes.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a field that considers a patient “from head to foot” to intervene holistically for more independence in the activities of daily life. Occupational therapists use exercises and adaptions along with devices to assist patients with attaining and keeping independence.

Occupational therapists (OTs) provide job training for the “job of living.” They help train individuals on how to engage in self-care and in basic life skills that might otherwise be difficult or overwhelming due to disability, illness, or injury. Occupational therapists treat a wide variety of patients in various settings.

Where They Work

Occupational therapists work in a broad variety of environments. You would, for example, find them in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation facilities, and even in private practice.

OT Goals

Occupational therapists set meaningful goals. They consider what things are important to the patient and then work to restore independence and quality of life in areas such as mobility and even simple things like brushing teeth and doing daily chores.

Occupational Therapy Tasks

Occupational therapists evaluate patient needs. They develop treatment plans to meet these needs and then assess and document the patient’s progress. 

Sometimes, where restoration of function is not possible, they adapt to the environment. They also educate the patient and family in the use of the equipment and techniques.

Services provided by OTs help individuals improve their ability to perform daily activities and reach their goals and may include:

  • Reviewing medical history
  • Performing individualized evaluations
  • Developing customized interventions
  • Demonstrating exercises
  • Educating families and employers
  • Assessing outcomes
occupational therapy vs speech pathology
Source: OT Potential

What is Speech Pathology?

Speech/Language therapy is an intervention, or a series of interventions, to help patients swallow and eat and to assist them in communicating. It has a much narrower vision than occupational therapy, though they sometimes work in tandem.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), or speech therapists, are practitioners who diagnose, treat, and prevent communication and swallowing disorders. The primary goal of a speech therapist is to use therapeutic approaches to improve a patient’s ability to communicate and/or swallow. They are the communication experts who work with individuals to help provide solutions to communication barriers.

Where They Work

Forty percent of S/L pathologists work in educational facilities. The rest work in residential care or long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

Speech/Language Therapy Goals

While occupational therapists work with patients to restore general independence and quality of life, speech/language therapists focus solely on the areas of swallowing and communication.

Speech Pathology Tasks

Speech/language therapists, like occupational therapists, first assess patients to determine problems. They then create treatment plans for the patient. They, too, must assess and document patient progress. Plus, they educate patients and caregivers about the techniques they are using.

The primary goal of SLPs is to improve individuals’ ability to communicate using therapeutic practices. SLPs focus on speech-related issues such as:

  • Feeding and swallowing
  • Fluency
  • Language
  • Social communication
  • Speech sounds
  • Voice

Similarities Between Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy

While speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists work with patients on different sets of issues, there are many similarities in the approach to helping patients in both careers:

  • Evaluation: Assessing and evaluating patients for issues and disorders is a key responsibility for both SLPs and OTs
  • Treatment and Treatment Plans: Both OTs and SLPs must use what they have learned from evaluating their patients to come up with treatment plans and execute those plans. Both professions are highly evidenced-based, utilizing research to implement proven treatments
  • Evaluate Treatment Effectiveness: Once speech pathology or occupational therapy treatment plans are in place, it is important to be able to evaluate whether or not they are working, so that those plans can be adjusted to optimize outcomes for patients
  • Family Education: Many therapy patients either have disabilities that require help from caregivers, are young children who need help continuing treatment outside of therapy sessions, or have other needs that require family education. SLPs and OTs are charged with educating families on injuries and disorders, including what families can do to help patients benefit from therapy as much as possible, as well as making patient home environments better for the patient’s condition.

Required Education and Specializations for Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy

Both professions require a master’s degree followed by an exam that leads to licensure. There are also specializations in both. Occupational therapists can specialize in gerontology; mental health; pediatrics; physical rehabilitation; driving and mobility; environmental modification; feeding, eating, swallowing, and low vision, and in school systems. 

Speech pathology therapists can specialize in one or more of four areas: child language and language disorders; fluency and fluency disorders; swallowing and swallowing disorders or intraoperative monitoring.

OETPRACTICE.NET offers OET online preparation tests for nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, radiographers, speech pathologists, veterinary scientists, dietitians, occupational therapists, etc. What more? You get the tutor to support you are looking for. These OET practice tests aptly simulate the difficulty levels which most of the test-takers come across and struggle to overcome.

Speech Pathology vs Occupational Therapy – How Do I Choose?

The focus of this article is choosing between speech and occupational therapy. Which is the right profession for you depends upon whether you prefer narrow-focused speech pathology or the holistic approach of occupational therapy. Pay for occupational therapists is slightly higher. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists can expect to earn a median wage of $86,280, while speech/language pathologists earn $80,480. The job growth rate for occupational therapists, however, is 16%, while speech/language pathologists have a growth rate of 25%. 

How to Choose Between Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy
Source: OT Potential

The educational requirements are similar, and there are excellent online programs from places like for both that include internships and other opportunities. Online programs allow students to work while pursuing their degrees.

So, if you are interested in a helping profession, the answer to which one probably lies in your personality and interests. Both professions increase the quality of life for patients and job satisfaction rates are high.

Tips for Choosing between Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy

Here are some additional tips you can use when choosing between a career as an occupational therapist and a speech therapist:

  • Consider your goals. When deciding whether you’d like to be an occupational or speech therapist, think carefully about your interests and what you’d like to achieve in your career. Consider the types of conditions and circumstances each professional encounters and how those details fit with your own career objectives.
  • Find a mentor. Consider reaching out to an experienced occupational therapist and speech therapist to find out what they enjoy about their role and the challenges they face. Try to come prepared for your conversation with specific, open-ended questions to help guide your own decision-making process.
  • Keep a positive outlook. Staying positive about your career path as an occupational or speech therapist can help you notice the best aspects of each role. You can then more accurately compare the positive features of both careers as part of your decision-making process.
  • Stay flexible. As you work to decide which career is right for you, you may encounter new information about each role and learn new things about yourself. Try to think flexibly and creatively about career options that will work for you as either an occupational or speech therapist.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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