While many commonly think of occupational therapy as physical rehabilitation after injury or illness, it actually has roots in mental health.
Occupational therapy’s emergence can be found as far back as eighteenth-century Europe. At a time when mentally ill people were treated like prisoners, a “moral treatment movement” began to evolve. While the previous treatment model was associated with punishment, brutality and idleness, the moral treatment movement sought to encourage kindness and the therapeutic value of engagement in purposeful activities.
The first occupational therapy treatment model, called Habit Training, began at Johns Hopkins in the early twentieth century. This approach proposed that in mentally ill people, occupational activities such as work, rest and play had become unbalanced. Early occupational therapists introduced therapeutic occupations such as weaving, art, and bookbinding. These goal-directed activities were used to help individuals learn new skills to be productive, and derive therapeutic benefits of a balanced daily schedule.
The occupational therapy profession grew as wounded soldiers returned from World War II, and then surged again in the 1970s with the medical field’s increase in specialized skills and knowledge.
Occupational therapists always have believed in treating the whole person, whether the primary problem relates to physical or mental health. They practice in diverse settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, home health, neonatal intensive care units, community programs and the workplace. Those who work in mental health can do so in residential hospitals, community-based mental health settings and outpatient private practice clinics.