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Portrait of Occupational Therapy


Health professionals worldwide are faced with globalization, flexible health care delivery and significant advances in sophisticated technology. There is also a greater disparity between availability and levels of care (i.e. preventive and basic health care vs. advanced health care) and between developed and developing countries. Occupational therapists play an important role in preventive health care, development of wellness programs and in promotion of greater participation in society for individuals with disabilities. Occupational therapists meet the challenges of rapidly altering health care systems by preparing therapists to practice in a dynamic environment and through their continuing education.

The focus of occupational therapy is occupation and the belief that participation in occupation is essential to health (Law, 2002). The rapidly changing and dynamic nature of contemporary health and human service delivery systems now requires the entry-level occupational therapist to possess basic skills as a direct care provider, consultant, educator, manager of personnel and resources, consumer of research, as well as advocate for the profession and the consumer. Consequently, therapists have recognized that treating clients in a natural environment (i.e. home, work or school setting), with an emphasis on prevention and promotion of health, is critical. The emphasis on preventative care is reflected by the World Correspondence to: Sandra L. Rogers, Pacific University, College of Health Professions, 2043 College Way, Forest Grove, OR 97124, USA. Tel: (503) 352-2758; Fax: (503) 352-2980; E-mail:

Heath Organization (WHO), in their development of the new International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health that seeks to promote better health outcomes for all persons (World Health Organization, 2001). This paper emphasizes the current consensus on occupational therapy, the theoretical constructs of occupational therapy, its practice areas and models, as well as the fundamental ethics, governance and education that guide the implementation of services. These aspects seem critical to the further development of the discipline. 

Definition of Occupational Therapy

The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) defines occupational therapy as: Occupational therapy is a profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the Figure 1. Relationship between conceptual foundations and the practice of occupational therapy. activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment to better support participation (World Federation of Occupational Therapists, 2004).

The word occupation is used in the most comprehensive sense and refers to the common everyday activities that make up one’s day. Frequently categorized as work, play/leisure, instrumental activities of daily living, occupations may include dressing, bathing, eating; volunteer work, paid work, school, home maintenance, sports, card games, hobbies (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2002). Additionally, occupations are generally viewed as activities which have unique meaning and purpose in a person’s life (Christiansen & Baum, 1997). Occupations are central to a person’s identity and competence, and they influence how one spends time and makes decisions.