2017 marks the centenary year of Occupational Therapy in the UK and USA

15 May 2017

2017 marks the centenary year of Occupational Therapy in the UK and USA

2017 marks the centenary year of Occupational Therapy in the UK and USA so there can be no better place to start the build up to The Occupational Therapy Show 2017 by reflecting on the professions roots, growth and continued need to develop in a constantly changing society.

From the 1700’s when scholars such as Phillipe Pinel and William Tuke began to explore what was termed 'moral treatment and occupation' for sufferers of mental illhealth; through the years of Elizabeth Casson (UK), Dr William Dunton (US), Adolph Meyer (US) and many more; to more recent years with development of WFOT (1952), BAOT (1974) and COT (1978); occupation has been considered as a vital component to recovery within dramatically changing social and cultural norms.

However, despite being considered important by people in the field of 'occupation’ the profession has had to consistently fight for its place at the table with other medical model roles. In the midst of these fights throughout history the profession has been impacted on by catastrophic world events such as war, the great depression, financial crashes, famine and disease. Despite these events, or indeed it could be argued ultimately due to them given the use and impact of occupational engagement, Occupational Therapy has continued to grow in strength internationally and we are now through WFOT able to engage with organisations such as WHO as well as with
each other across the globe.

What strikes me as interesting is that Occupational Therapists seem often to have difficulty describing what they do. This would suggest that given the age of the profession, at least in some form, there have been multiple changes or reinventions to find a place within the health care system of that age. However, in 1793 occupation was described as 'man’s goal directed use of time, energy, interests, and attention”. On this basis treatment for mental ill-health became based on purposeful daily activity.

Surely there cannot be many professions who deal with such complex issues that have a consistent message/philosophy that stays unchanged for 300 years? Why therefore do we find it so difficult? Are we so set on there being clinical specialisms which do’ Occupational Therapy differently that we forget Occupational Therapy itself is indeed the specialism? Or do we simply have a chip on our proverbial shoulder that only we can get rid of?

Internationally over the last 50 years that has surely changed in no small way to WFOT who govern standards of education across the world and ensure that Occupational Therapy is represented at the highest level of international health and wellbeing process development.

I was recently at a conference where an Occupational Therapists representative discussed two current developments within the profession domestically. The first is
the promotion of the use of the term Occupational Therapist rather than OT. It is felt that in using the full professional title we are more likely to be taken seriously or given greater standing. Although I disagree with this, and feel these things still rely on the therapists ability to describe what they do and how they provide value for money, I appreciate that no other health care professional that immediately springs to mind does this so they may have a point. Thesecond was the confirmation that COT has been granted Royal approval and later in 2017 will become the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

Although this may not sit well with some of the more republic idealists within the membership I can see how this is a big step in the right direction domestically. No longer should we need to request invites to high profile and direction changing strategy meetings meaning that we have an opportunity to truly impact change as well as understanding, if indeed required, on what the profession can provide. Royal approval is given sparingly and provides a demonstration of the continued growing
strength we possess collectively.

To ensure we continue on this upward curve over the next 100 years we need to ensure that creativity and dynamism are harnessed; members recognise their individual brilliance and their ability to influence collectively; and we continue to build on skills that will allow us to thrive in an ever changing health care system whilst maintaining the consistently unchanging 300 year old message.

By Adam Ferry


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