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This week is Occupational Therapy Week in the United Kingdom and World Occupational Therapy Day was celebrated on the 27th of October with the World Federation of Occupational Therapists celebrating the essence of the profession.

Occupational therapy students being trained in weaving. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

Occupational therapy students being trained in weaving. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

Occupational therapy is synonym with improving the quality of life of individuals through engagement in activities and has its humble origin in the First and Second World War, with occupational therapists providing rehabilitation services to wounded soldiers with the aim of re-establishing them in the workforce.

During World War I, vocational services were provided to injured soldiers in the military hospitals in Canada and vocational workshops were set up by the Invalid Soldier’s Commission, whilst “young suitable ladies” provided activities to patients who were bedbound. In 1917, the United States founded the Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy, which is now known as The American Occupational Therapy Association, whilst Canada established short courses for the training of occupational therapists, then referred to as “ward aids” or “occupation aids”.  The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy (now known as the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists) was established in 1926.

Basket-weaving also formed part of the occupational therapy training course.

Basket-weaving also formed part of the occupational therapy training course. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

Dr Elizabeth Casson played a vital role in the development of the profession in the United Kingdom and set up the first school of Occupational Therapy at Dorset House in 1930. Dr Casson understood the value of occupation and engagement in activities:

Dr Casson, aged 21. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

Dr Casson, aged 21. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

“When I first qualified as a doctor …I found it very difficult to get used to the atmosphere of bored idleness in the day rooms of the hospital. Then, one Monday morning, when I arrived at the women’s wards, I found the atmosphere had completely changed and realised that preparations for Christmas decorations had begun. The ward sisters had produced coloured tissue paper and bare branches, and all the patients were working happily in groups making flowers and leaves and using all their artistic talents with real interest and pleasure. I knew from that moment that such occupation was an integral part of treatment and must be provided.”

Quoted in The story of Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy 1930 – 1986, [Oxford: Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, 1987], p.1

The original location of the Dorset House in Clifton, Bristol.

The original location of the Dorset House in Clifton, Bristol. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

The Scottish Association of Occupational Therapists (SAOT) was founded in 1932, with The Association of Occupational Therapists (AOT) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland following in 1936.  These two organisations merged in 1974, forming the British Association of Occupational Therapists.

Nissen huts located on the grounds of the Churchill Hospital (Oxford), used for occupational therapy training since 1946.

Nissen huts located on the grounds of the Churchill Hospital (Oxford), used for occupational therapy training since 1946. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

During World War II, two occupational therapists travelled from Britain to set up the first Occupational Therapy department in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite enduring wild storms at sea and losing all equipment on the way, these brave ladies established a training course in 1943, with occupational therapists providing services to injured men in the military hospitals across in the country. The South African Association of Occupational Therapists (now known as the Occupational Therapy Association of South Africa) was established in 1945 and was one of the founder members of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists in 1852, with Vona du Toit being the first Vice-President.

Occupational therapy as a profession has undergone many changes since the use of activities within a hospital setting, and has evolved to provide services within various sectors. However, to the core of occupational therapy remains the belief in the value of occupation, as emphasized by Dr Casson:

Dorset House celebrated 21 years in July 1951.

Dorset House celebrated 21 years in July 1951. Used with permission of Oxford Brookes University.

“…to form a community where every individual was encouraged to feel that she had a real object; for a patient the object was to get well and go out to a worth-while life; for a member of the staff it was to serve others with all the talents she possessed; for a student, to develop all her capacities for her life as an Occupational Therapist and to find the individual job that only she could do.”

– Quoted in The story of Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy 1930 – 1986, [Oxford: Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, 1987], p.3

To find out more about vocational services offered by Obair, visit our stand at the Occupational Therapy Show, taking place in Birmingham on the 25th and 26th of November 2015.

Written by Lezanne Fieuw