History of Occupational Therapy

It is believed that Occupational Therapy was used for treatment of patients with mental or emotional disorders long time back in 100 BCE. For the first time, a Greek physician named Asclepiades used therapeutic massages, exercises, baths, and music to heal stress and soothe their minds. Later, another Greek philosopher, Celsus used similar therapies like conversation, travel, and music with his patients.

In 18th century, two Europeans, Phillippe Pinel and Johann Christian Rell adopted this method and ameliorate the hospital system. During this era, they quitted metal chains and involved some relaxing activities and meticulous work in their procedure of treating such patients.

Occupational therapy emerged as a profession in 1917 in the United States of America when the National society for Promotion of Occupational Therapy (now known as American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)) was established. It was officially named as Occupational Therapy in 1920. This association was found with the belief in remedial properties of human occupation. This therapy played a vital role in the treatment of patients suffering with AIDS, polio, tuberculosis, etc.


In 1975, to enhance the abilities of disabled children for their active participation in regular school activities, many public schools offered employment to thousands of occupational therapists. For this, they followed the enactment of legislation known as the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142). Candidates with approved training programs are certified by AOTA, since then. In 1940s, aspirants who wanted to practice as a registered occupational therapist were required to own a bachelor’s degree for certification. But in 1990, this requisite was changed to master’s degree level. Soon after this, doctorate’s degree programs of occupational therapy evolved. Now, all the programs related to the profession are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and the certification for all over the country is granted by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Till 2007, registered occupational therapists were required to have a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational therapy. But, since 2007, prerequisite to enter in the profession is a master’s degree (M.A., M.S. or MOT). Other than this, a professional doctoral degree can also work.

In order to enter into the field, a candidate must have at least a master’s or a higher degree in occupational therapy. In the year 2012, there were about 300 occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant programs in the United States and its territories.