"Restorative in its effect, economic in its result": a re-interpretation of occupational therapy in Canada, 1914-1928

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University of New Brunswick


This MA report examines the motivations behind creating the profession of occupational therapy in Canada between 1914 and 1928. It re-interprets the dominant historical view that occupational therapy programs were designed to holistically heal soldiers through rehabilitative work. Instead, it argues that occupational therapy was created with the goal of restoring soldiers as economically viable men. Guided by the ideology of possessive individualism, programs advanced the notion that men needed to be independent breadwinners to uphold Canada’s position in the global economy. Three groups of people involved in and associated with the founding of occupational therapy—its bureaucratic leaders, its professional leaders, and its practicing ward aides—believed occupational therapy’s main purpose was not to create a fully healthy man, but to ensure that he was able to function well enough to hold a job. The government, concerned with keeping the cost of vocational re-training low and its programs efficient, also viewed occupational therapy as a way to speed up convalescence by ensuring men began to work as soon as they left the battlefield. This trend continued in the post-war period with occupational therapy being used to save money for businesses and insurance companies by restoring workers in a cheap and efficient way. In this way, OT regimes were created as government-run programs of vocational re-training.