How Occupational Therapy Started

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019 there were 143,300 jobs for occupational therapists and 55,100 jobs for occupational therapy assistants and aides. However did you know that the field of occupational therapy did not exist until the early 1900’s. Compared to other medical fields, occupational therapy is a relatively new field.

In the 1800’s interest grew in the occupational field with William Rush Dunton Jr. who is now known as the ‘father of occupational therapy’. He worked with the mentally ill and his treatment incorporated occupational activities for his patients. He recommended daily activities in the schedules of his patients. He formed the first society of occupational therapists which later became known as the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy in 1917. Today it is better known as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

In the early 1900’s, occupational therapy became to be better known as its own unique practice. It was considered to be a holistic practice, but did not have the evidence-based background and the treatments were not understood. In the early days, occupational therapy was provided to patients with mental health conditions.

Over time the benefits of occupational therapy became widely known and it began to stand out as an unique field. Eleanor Clarke Slagle helped occupational therapy to become a more established practice. She is better known as the ‘Mother of Occupational Therapy’. She served as the President of AOTA from 1919-1920. She also established the first formal educational programs for those wishing to practice as occupational therapists. This helped occupational therapy to be recognized as its own medical field. As the field and its benefits became widely well-known during the World War I, the addition of occupational therapy assistants helped the field grow even further.

Today, occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistants work in various settings across the world. Learn how occupational therapy helps patients. The clinicians of Cornerstone Rehab work in long-term care facilities serving the older population. Learn how you can join the team.