Power and professionalization: Occupational therapy 1950 to 1980

2006 2006

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Abstract (summary)

A community of therapists changed occupational therapy between 1950 until 1980 to a science-based profession. This study examined the commitment and power of a cohort of therapists, primarily women, who positioned themselves in strategic arenas, to market the emerging profession. Three research questions were answered: (1) How did occupational therapy's supporting body of knowledge affect the development of the profession between 1950 and 1980? (2) Who were the occupational therapy scholars and leaders, and why did they support professionalism? and (3) What occupational therapists beliefs and actions shaped occupational therapy's evolution as a science-based profession?

Ten occupational therapists, who led the American Occupational Therapy Association, and the American Occupational Therapy Foundation during a period of dynamic growth, gave in depth oral histories that filled in archival gaps. Analyzing and deconstructing their words, in addition to studying primary and secondary documents, showed that the community culture consisted of a hierarchy with insiders and outsiders. These therapists, categorized as theorists and futurists, political movers and new and old guard sustainers, determined occupational therapy's direction.

Occupational therapy's evolution was part of a larger story about history of professions, particularly female dominated professions. By participating in American social movements, including the 1950s rehabilitation movement, the 1960s equal rights movement, and the 1970s women's movements, the community of therapists separated from the male-dominated medical model to gain professional authority. Creating an interesting dichotomy, an internal tension arouse between those therapists embracing an objective, and arguably male science, and those supporting a characteristically feminine caring philosophical base. Overt debate, allowing important dialogue about the nature and purpose of occupational therapy's knowledge was not part of the community culture. Why did community leaders ostracize and isolate theorists and scholars who challenged traditional occupational therapy views?

I argue that developing a theoretical knowledge base was not enough to legitimize occupational therapy. Community insiders saw science, particularly in the late 1960s, as an opportunity to gain professional jurisdiction and viability in a competitive health care environment.

Indexing (details)

Occupational safety
0382: Rehabilitation
0382: Therapy
0354: Occupational safety
Identifier / keyword
Health and environmental sciences; Occupational therapy
Power and professionalization: Occupational therapy 1950 to 1980
Peters, Christine Olga
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 66/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542464973, 0542464977
Hinojosa, Jim
New York University
University location
United States -- New York
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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