Monday, 12 July 2010

A Brief History of Occupational Therapy

Two images to illustrate a form of occupation. In this case baking and dusting. However any occupation can be used as a medium of therapeutic intervention. Sometimes the task chosen is the aspect that provides the therapy, sometimes it is the structure of the task, the environment used, whether individual or in a group or specific techniques of the occupational therapist. All these factors impact on the therapeutic process and assisting the client to reach their goal.

Occupational Therapy is an incredible profession with enormous scope to help others, however, it is largely unknown and misunderstood. Most people do not realize that Occupational Therapy is an allied health profession that requires completing a university degree in order to practice. If you are searching for an occupational therapist on-line or in person, make sure they have a degree from a recognized university.

A little look at HISTORY:

Occupational Therapy really is an age old profession but it became officially recognized a little prior to WW1. One of the first areas in which occupational therapy began, was in what was then called a mental institute. The staff at a certain mental institution in USA were concerned that their patients spent many hours in bed and were not compliant with taking their medication. Hospitals stays were lengthy and re-admission frequent.

It was decided to try giving them a craft or industry related task to do during the day time. The result was:

-          patients got up more readily in the morning

-          their personal care improved

-          they became more compliant with medication

-          hospital stays began to shorten and re-admission was less frequent.

During WW1 and 2, a different version of occupational therapy was tried. Here occupations were given either to take a war veterans mind off his pain or to help to encourage a specific movement. Through these and other initial applications of occupation for therapeutic purposes, the far reaching benefits were quickly identified.

A lovely illustration of the power of engaging a person in a meaningful activity is illustrated in the book “A Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story outlines the life of a child who is bed ridden and frail, including sensitivity to light, noise, aversion to people and more. When another child comes to visit and insists on taking the ill child out into the garden, a total transformation begins to take place. Just from getting out into fresh air, sunshine and participating in the exciting task of improving an overgrown, forgotten patch in the garden to a living, beautiful place to visit and play, so too the “ill” child begins to blossom. It is interesting to note that this novel was first published in 1909 around the time that the profession was first developing.

Around 1917 - 1919, the media coverage regarding this up-and-coming profession was that the potential benefits were so far reaching it would become as necessary as brushing ones teeth or nursing. The predictions at that stage were that occupational therapy would play a crucial role in saving medical costs by reducing hospital stay, improving function of patients that would have a benefit in terms of return to work and reduced need for re-hospitalization.

From the outset, occupational therapy required a referral from a doctor which meant that there was a need for recognition by the medical team. In order to ensure increased support of the profession, methods were needed to quantify and standardize what occupational therapy is. To attain this goal, specialization began and hence, where occupational therapy had been focused on the use of occupations as a medium of treatment, therapists began to specialize in types of clients or patients that they would treat.

We have dealt here with a little of the history of Occupational Therapy. In another post we will look at the title itself and how this explains further the role of the occupational therapist.


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