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The History of Occupational Therapy

The very first evidence that occupational therapy existed dates back to 100 BC when a Greek physician named Asclepiades initiated humane treatment of patients with mental illness using baths, massages, exercise techniques, and music. At a later date, another physician named Roman Celsus began using music, travel, and conversation to treat his patients. These two men are considered to be the founders of occupational therapy.

During the 18th century in Europe, two men by the names of Philippe Pinel and Johann Christian Reil started introducing similar treatment strategies in an effort to reform the hospital system.

They began using literature, music, physical exercise, and work as a way to “heal” emotional stress, thereby improving one’s ability to perform activities of daily living. This reform caught on rapidly overseas but did not really progress until later in the 19th century.

In 1917, the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy (NSPOT) was founded. This organization flourished until the Great Depression. During this time, Occupational Therapy became more closely related to and aligned with organized medicine, creating a more “scientific approach” to this field of study. This organization would later become known as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

World War I forced the new profession to clarify its role in the medical domain and to standardize training and practice. Occupational Therapists established clinics, workshops, and training schools nationwide. Due to the overwhelming number of wartime injuries, “reconstruction aides” were recruited by the Surgeon General. Post-war, however, there was a struggle to keep people in the profession. Emphasis was shifted from the altruistic war-time mentality to the financial, professional, and personal satisfaction that comes with being a therapist. Entry and exist criteria were established, and AOTA advocated for steady employment, decent wages, and fair working conditions.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Occupational Therapy began to focus more on a person’s quality of life, thus becoming more involved in education, prevention, screenings, and health maintenance. Goals of occupational therapy could now focus on prevention, quality, and maintaining independence.

Today, the focus of the profession is occupation. Occupational therapists provide services in various settings, such as homes, after-school programs, worksites, senior centers, correctional facilities, and more. This field is ever-evolving constantly coming up with new, creative ways to help people live their lives to the fullest.

One Response to "The History of Occupational Therapy"

  • Maria
    December 5, 2013 - 7:28 pm Reply

    UCP Children’s Services OTs Melissa and Abby are wonderful!

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