Standing Firm on Shifting Sands

Article excerpt

First, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. It is a great pleasure and honour to be asked to speak to you all, and on a topic that is a real passion of mine. The nature of keynotes is that they are generally one sided with you just listening to me for the next hour or so, but I am going to ask you do a bit more than just listen. As the conference comes to an end today, I hope my paper might bring a few ideas together, give you some different ways of considering the issues of concern, and stimulate lots more thought as we go back to work next week.

Several decades ago, Mary Reilly (1962) proposed, perhaps quite boldly, that occupational therapy could be one of the great ideas of the 20th Century. While many of us might agree that the sentiment of her claim was completely reasonable and achievable, it is my view that her prophecy has not been completely realised even now as we sit in the 21st Century (Molineux & Baptiste, in press). I think, however, that there is a real chance that we can finally realise her dream. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that it is our responsibility to make sure that occupational therapy is one of the great ideas of the 21st Century. There are probably many reasons for why her vision has not been realised, and I will raise some of those with you later, but it is my view that the key reason is that as occupational therapists we have not been able to respond effectively to the changing world around us; that we have not been able to stand firm on the shifting sands.

Now before I go on I want to clarify something so you can see that I am not just being a grumpy, old, awkward academic. First, since being back in Australia I have had the chance to review some of the memorabilia that my parents are still patiently keeping for me in Brisbane. Recently I was looking back over some of my school yearbooks and found the book for Year 12--no comments on the picture! Now hard as it may be for you to believe looking at that face, many years ago in the United Kingdom I was labelled, publicly, as the antichrist of the profession. You see, some people think that in being critical of what we do as occupational therapists I am trying to destroy the profession. However, for the record, I am an occupational therapist and there is no other profession I would want to be part of. In fact, I was rather surprised to see that way back in Year 12 the career that I thought was most likely for me, was occupational therapist. So my comments today are shared to give you food for thought in the hope that together we can make the profession as great as it should be.

Why am I so committed to occupational therapy? Well the answer is pretty easy and is best captured in stories about three women in my life--my sister, my grandmother, and a former client. While I could tell you lots about all of them I will share just one story with you. My sister is about two years younger than me and while she never excelled at school she was doing fine, until she started having some difficulties at the end of primary school. They were nothing major, but she was just not achieving as highly as her teachers thought she was capable of, she was distractible, and labelled 'hyperactive'. Despite all this everyone recognised her as a bright, friendly and intelligent girl and so there seemed to be a mismatch.

Thankfully a keen teacher suggested that Nerida might benefit from an occupational therapy assessment. My parents had never heard of one of those before, but nonetheless took Nerida along. When they got home from the assessment, they were very impressed and told me all about it, as they thought I might like to consider it as a career. So I investigated it and spent one week with occupational therapists in Brisbane for work experience. So convinced that it was the right career for me I applied to two occupational therapy programmes, was accepted by both and so my occupational therapy life began. …