Occupational therapy as critical today as it was 100 years ago

A student wears googles to simulate eye strain while playing cards
Photo by Michael Modecki

4/26/17

April is national Occupational Therapy Month and 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the profession that helps everyone from birth to old age live their best lives.

When soldiers returned stateside after World War I, the profession now known as occupational therapy began to help these men adapt to being home.  These early 20th century health practitioners advocated for the use of everyday activities to aid in the restoration of health and formed what is now the American Occupational Therapy Association in 1917.

Today, the profession of occupational therapy makes a difference across the life spectrum — from the autistic child with a sensory processing disorder to the elderly woman coping with dementia to the accident survivor re-learning how to cook his favorite meal. 

Texas Woman’s University’s School of Occupational Therapy was among the early schools preparing professionals for this emerging career and celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.  The School boasts more than 3,000 alumni from the program, who have gone on to touch the lives of clients, advocate for the profession and educate the next generation of occupational therapists.  

Even after 100 years of practice, many assume “occupations” are primarily related to job or employment tasks.  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupations are everyday activities that people want and need to do, such as chopping vegetables, reading a book or playing a card game with grandchildren. Essentially, occupational therapists help people to complete tasks that bring their life joy and purpose.

 “An occupational therapist has to be mindful of the all the different ways your mental, physical and spiritual well-being come together to give your life meaning,” said Cynthia Evetts, Director of the Texas Woman’s University School of Occupational Therapy. 

While all occupational therapists are equipped to help people from birth to old-age, many tend to focus in different practice areas they enjoy.  As with each profession, there are specific areas of occupational therapy that practitioners may develop expertise in over the course of their careers.  These specialty areas include early intervention and schools, gerontology, sensory integration, home and community, and mental health, just to name a few.  

For example, Evetts, Ph.D., OTR, and Suzanne M. Peloquin, Ph.D., OTR, recently published a text book titled Mindful Crafts as Therapy: Engaging More than Hands, which offers theory, tools and activities for utilizing mindful crafts during occupational therapy for patients.  The book is distinctive in its approach to bridge the gap between crafts as emotional expressions, like art therapy, and crafts for skill building to meet physical, cognitive and social challenges.

The book exemplifies how the field of occupational therapy today lends itself to a mindful approach that permeates all the different areas in which occupational therapists work. 

For example, TWU associate professor Tina Fletcher, Ed.D., OTR, educates staff at cultural and entertainment venues — like the Dallas Zoo, Dallas Museum of Art and Dallas Arboretum —  on how to make their spaces accessible to those with sensory processing disorders.

Associate Professor Claudette Fette, Ph.D., OTR, works with the Denton group Able Disabled, helping those with disabilities create arts, crafts and work to serve their communities in meaningful ways. 

Associate Professor Noralyn Pickens, Ph.D., OTR, co-created a smartphone app that helps occupational therapists and caregivers modify the homes of aging people so they may live in their homes for a long as possible. 

Professor Patricia Bowyer, Ph.D., OTR, collaborates with the renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to research how her Short Child Occupational Profile (SCOPE) works as part of a theoretical approach to treatment of children in oncology settings.  

These are just a few of the examples of the ways Texas Woman’s University’s occupational therapy faculty are working to better the lives of people of all ages.  They bring the same dedication and passion to teaching their students — the next generation of occupational therapists — by providing them with service learning opportunities outside of the classroom, so they can gain first-hand experience in the ways they will touch, change and impact lives. 

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