Occupational Therapy in the CAF

September 19, 2019 — Defence Stories

October is National Occupational Therapy month in Canada.  Did you know that Occupational Therapy has a 100 year history with the military?

The origins of Occupational Therapy are found in the early 19th century.  During the First World War, Occupational Therapists (OT) participated in the rehabilitation of repatriated injured soldiers by prescribing meaningful activities such as gardening or woodworking.  On November 6th 1943, the Department of Defence announced that Canadian OTs were able to enlist in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps within the nursing division.  Eighty-two OTs enlisted with 47 serving overseas.

Since the two World Wars, the field of occupational therapy has undergone dramatic growth and change.  Canadian OTs are regulated healthcare professionals helping individuals with disability or impairment engage in everyday activities (i.e. self-care, productivity and leisure).  Occupational Therapy maximizes an individual’s physical, mental and emotional functioning by teaching new ways of doing things, using equipment and/or adapting the environment.

We currently have four OTs within the Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) Clinics located in Halifax, Valcartier, Ottawa and Edmonton. Their primary goal is to provide recovery, restoration and return to duty services to military personnel, assisting them to reach their highest level of independence within their occupations.

Our CAF OTs are a valuable part of the CFHS physiotherapy clinics, but the OT and Physiotherapist roles are distinctly different.

“Physiotherapists help you gain the strength and range of motion so you can put your pants on, but the occupational therapist teaches you how to put your pants on,” explained Keith Ross, CAF Physiotherapist.

CAF OTs provide a variety of assessments and treatments, focusing on self-management and functional outcomes through a holistic approach.  For example, OTs provide education on pacing strategy, cognitive rehabilitation and plan a gradual return to activities (fitness/duty) for a member suffering from a concussion.  For a member presenting with an acute hand injury, OTs assess and treat by providing a splint and recommend assistive equipment to perform self-care and transfers safely and independently.

This October, we acknowledge the outstanding work of our CAF OTs. Occupational Therapy is more than just a rehabilitation service, it is key for CAF quality interdisciplinary “Total Health and Wellness” care.  CAF OTs are uniquely trained to focus on occupation in its various forms and in a holistic approach of the mind, body and environment.

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