The History of Occupational Therapy

If you’re about to get started in a career with occupational therapy, taking the time to learn the history of occupational therapy may be something that you are interested in. It’s always fascinating to discover how various occupations have come to be over time and how the need has grown and developed over the years.

Let’s take a glimpse into the history of occupational therapy so you can see for yourself how it has originated.

The Early Times

The very first evidence that occupational therapy existed dates back to 100 BCE when a Greek physician named Asclepiades started treating those who were suffering from mental illnesses using baths, massages, exercise techniques, and music.  He began noticing the positive effects that these treatment methods had on the patients he was seeing and his interest continued to grow with regards to what one could do to treat someone without medical intervention.

At a later date, another physician named Roman Celsus began using music, travel, and conversation to treat his patients and also noticed favorable improvements in how they were doing.

At this point this alternative treatment method was still very new and so it wasn’t considered to be an actual form of practice.  These ancient Greek and Roman physicians are considered to be the founders of occupational therapy.

Movement into the Hospital

During the 18th century in Europe, two men by the name of Philippe Pinel and Johann Christian Reil started introducing similar treatment strategies as Asclepiades and Celsus were using.

Rather than turning to traditional techniques of using metal chains and restraints, they utilized leisure activities to help treat patients.

This reform caught on rapidly overseas but didn’t really progress into anything in the United States medical system until later in the 19th century.

As a greater prevalence of disease was taking over during the 20th century, this new reform was further examined as a larger scale treatment method and physicians were starting to devote more energy and focus towards it.

The Realization of the Profession

In 1910, occupational therapy became an actual profession and the career was born. At this point the focus of the career was largely based on working with invalids and bringing them up to full functioning capacity.

As the career progressed and began to hit mainstream medicine, it took on a larger scope and started being utilized across a number of disciplines such as nursing, psychiatry, social work, rehabilitation, and self-help.

By 1930 a realm of practice was developed and the medical world established standards of practice for occupational therapists.

Some of the basic assumptions of what occupational therapy was about were that it had a positive effect on health and well-being, it was designed to create structure and organize time, it brought meaning to life from both cultural and personal viewpoints, and it is focused on the individual.

The occupational therapy process has also evolved to encompass eleven different stages.

The 11 stages include:

  1. Referral
  2. Information gathering
  3. Initial assessment
  4. Needs identification
  5. Goal setting
  6. Action planning
  7. Action
  8. Ongoing assessment and revision
  9. Outcome and measurement
  10. The end of intervention
  11. Review

While all patients may not move through every single one of these steps, most will touch upon almost all of them throughout the treatment process.

Over time occupational therapy has been implemented in areas outside the hospital setting, including schools, places of work and alternative care facilities.

As you can see, the occupational therapy history timeline stretches from ancient times to our modern world.  Though it was slow in its original development, more and more medical professionals discovered the benefits it offered to sick and injured patients, and occupational therapy quickly caught on and gained the recognition that it deserved.

Occupational therapy is now a thriving medical profession that is fully integrated into the modern health care system.

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