The occupational therapy profession was born in America with the establishment of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy in March of 1917. This year, occupational therapy is turning 100, and it’s a time to look back at the incredible growth of the field throughout the past century. However, as we look back at the major milestones throughout the past 100 years, it’s also important look towards the bright future of occupational therapy, embracing the future as we continue to move forward.
Major OT Milestones in the Past 100 Years
Occupational therapy within the U.S. starts with the six founders of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational therapy: Dr. William Rush Dunton, Jr., a psychiatrist; George Edward Barton, a tuberculosis patient and architect; Thomas Bessell Kidney, an architect; Susan Cox Johnson, a teacher; Eleanor Clarke Slagle, a social worker; and Isabel G. Newton, a secretary. This group of individuals believed that the care offered in hospitals wasn’t adequate to meet the needs of patients, and they thought that using activities to occupy time for patients could help speed up the healing process.
World War I provided the perfect time for occupational therapy to take off. Occupational therapy was used by teachers, craftswomen, nurses, and artists caring for wounded men to help with their training and treatment. World War II saw the growth of occupational therapy services, with military hospitals employing thousands of occupational therapists.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, occupational therapy benefitted from the “Rehabilitation Movement.” Thousands of soldiers came home from war mentally and physically injured, and the demand for occupational therapists surged. Not only were therapists treating institutionalized, mentally ill patients, they were also starting to treat physical disabilities that were a result of war injuries. Occupational therapy was now seen as a legitimate treatment for survivors of amputations, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries.
1947 brought about the first major OT textbook, Willard & Spackman’s Principles of Occupational Therapy, as well as the very first OT journal, Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation. During that year, occupational therapists also were granted military status.
As medicine became specialized in the 1960s, occupational therapy became more specialized as well. This led to occupational therapists starting to treat pediatric patients and patients with developmental disabilities. De-institutionalization also took place, leading to the need for occupational therapists to help developmentally challenged, mentally ill, and physically impaired patients to become productive, independent members of society. 1965 also brought about new amendments to the Social Security Acts that resulted in inpatient occupational therapy being covered by Medicare. Later, in 1975, occupational therapy was added to schools with the passing of the Education of the Handicapped Act.
Occupational therapy grew in unique ways during the 1980s and 1990s, focusing more on patient quality of life. This resulted in OT becoming more prevalent in screenings, education, health maintenance, and preventive care. The goals of the profession were changing, focusing more on quality, preventing, and the maintenance of independence.
Looking Towards the Future of OT
Through the years, changes in society and in medicine have resulted in big changes for the occupational therapy field. As changes take place within the American healthcare system, occupational therapy will continue to change in the future as well. Opportunities for occupational therapists will continue to expand, with more therapists working as a part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary team within primary care environments. Occupational therapy continues refining its body of knowledge and practice, resulting in new opportunities for therapists interested in pursuing careers in research or teaching.
SOAR Life Products is a new name within the healthcare market, and by providing resources and products for occupational therapists, we’re ready to move forward into the future of occupational therapy. We provide innovative products and ideas that allow therapists to focus on patients, and we’re excited to be a part of the 100-year celebration this year in Philadelphia. Drop by booth #1227 at the AOTA conference and learn more about how SOAR Life Products can work with you as occupational therapy enters its second century of helping patients thrive.