History Of Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapy began to emerge in the 1700s, during the “Age of Enlightment”. It was during this period that revolutionary ideas were evolving regarding the “infirmed” and mentally ill. At that time in history, the mentally ill were treated like prisoners; locked up and considered to be a danger to society. It wasn’t until two gentlemen; Phillipe Pinel and William Tuke started to challenge society’s belief about the mentally ill, that a new understanding, philosophy, and treatment would emerge.

Phillipe Pinel began what was then called “Moral Treatment and Occupation”, as an approach to treating mental illness, in 1973. He firmly believed that moral treatment meant treating one’s emotions. This Moral Treatment Movement then
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George E. Barton, an architect, contacted Dr. William R. Dunton, Jr. because he was interested in learning about the response of the human body to the therapeutics of occupation.

The National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy was found on March 15, 1917. Charter members included; Eleanor Clarke Slagle, George E. Barton, Adolph Meyer, Susan Johnson, Thomas Kidner, Isabel G, Newton, and Susan Tracy.

Through the 1920s and 1930s until the Great Depression, this organization flourished. It was during this time that Occupational Therapy became more closely related to and aligned with organized medicine, thus creating a more “scientific approach” to this field study. It is also this organization that would be later known as the American Occupational Therapy of today.

Following the Great Depression, however, it was difficult to find therapists due to low budgets and poor staffing clinics. World War I then came which necessitated the use of every valuable therapist possible. It was of this time that Occupational Therapists were called on to develop programs and treat the injured soldiers, of which there were too
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This recognition provided other opportunities to gain financial support from the federal government for the education of OT personnel. It also provided leadership skills for members of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

The certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) position was created to alleviate the demands for the OTs who were required 4-6 years of schooling in 1956. The COTA required only minimal teaching and was utilized as an assisting body and aide.

The field of Occupational Therapy kept growing. During the 1960s, as a medicine became “specialized”, so did OT. Occupational Therapists were also called upon and qualified to treat in the fields of pediatrics and developmental disabilities.

In 1965, under the amendments to the Social Security Acts, Medicare now covered inpatient occupational therapy services.

In 1975, The Education of the Handicapped Act was passed and Occupational Therapy was included in the schools as a “Related
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