April is National Occupational Therapy Month

By Teresa Schreiber, MA, OTR, CHT, CEES of Schreiber Upper Extremity Rehab, PC
April is celebrated as National Occupational Therapy Month. Many people often ask what is Occupational Therapy? Occupational Therapy or OT is a health care profession that uses purposeful activity with individuals who are limited by physical injury or illness, psychosocial dysfunction, developmental or learning disabilities, poverty and cultural differences or aging process in order to maximize independence, prevent disability and maintain health.
Occupation has long been recognized as a source of survival. Work is needed for our day to day survival to accomplish our goals in life. Occupational therapy encompasses the idea of work as a means of therapy. Historically, evidence can be found back as early as 2600 BC, when the Chinese used physical training for the promotion of health. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, work or occupational therapy was utilized primarily in the humane and morale care of the mentally ill patients. The use of crafts and recreational activities for disabilities of muscles and joints also became more notable. In 1905, Susan E. Tracy, probably the first occupational therapist, while working as a nurse noticed the benefits of occupation in relieving nervous tension and making bed rest more tolerable for patients. The use of occupation or activity by means of utilizing such crafts as hand weaving, woodcarving, metal work and pottery became more universal for treatment in hospitals.
The field of Occupational therapy began to expand during World War I. In September 1917, General John J. Pershing requested 200 young women to serve in Army hospitals overseas. Two training programs for Reconstruction Aides were established. One group was for physiotherapy aides who were trained to give massage and exercise to returned soldiers. The second group was trained as occupational therapy aides to furnish forms of occupation to convalescents in long illnesses and to give patients the therapeutic benefit of activity. In working with soldiers, it was realized that if they were kept busy and helped to regain an occupation or activity, their recovery process was much more complete. During this period, OT began to evolve into treating physical dysfunctions.
The demand for Occupational Therapists in civilian hospitals increased, thus two schools were opened in 1919. One school was the Philadelphia School of Occupational Therapy and the 2nd school was the St. Louis School of Occupational Therapy. Both schools still continue today and are known as Tufts University and Washington University. Originally, training required 12 months of courses with 8 months in theory and 3 months in practice. The focus became more scientific measuring range of motion and strength and developing adapted pieces of equipment.

Occupational Therapy has evolved over the years and even become more specialized into various areas. Some of these areas include: Physical Dysfunction, Pediatrics, Psychiatrics, Geriatrics, Orthopedics, Neurology, Burn Care, Wound Care, Hand Therapy, Prosthetics and Splinting. Occupational Therapists can be found working in school settings, hospitals, rehab centers, out-patient clinics, nursing homes, home health care, burn centers, vocational rehab and in research and further education of the profession.
Some of the modalities implemented throughout the years have been weaving, leather working, wood working, arts and crafts. Many of these modalities have been phased out or changed to more economical and less timely approaches for the recovery process. The principle founding beliefs were work, rest and play and OT has stuck close to this theory. OT implements Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) into many of their treatment programs to incorporate return to normal daily functioning.
Today, there are over 280 accredited Occupational Therapy programs in the United States. Texas has 6200 practicing Occupational Therapists and 2300 Occupational Therapist Assistants. The requirements for a degree are much further advanced as a bachelors’ degree has been phased out. The new requirements require 5-6 years at an accredited university to obtain a Masters of Occupational Therapy and there is 2 year associate’s degree available as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. Both degrees require on the job type training as clinicals before passing licensure examination and registration exams. There is also a doctorate now available for Occupational therapy and further specializations in various fields such as orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, ergonomics and hand therapy.
The American Occupational Therapy Association was established in 1917 to support the Occupational Therapy profession and provide resources for all of its members. Further information about the profession can be found at www.aota.org Texas also has its own organization for OT know as Texas Occupational Therapy Association. April is the month established by the profession of Occupational therapy to be recognized for what they represent. If you know an OT, please wish them a happy month.