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Author Q&A: Social Occupational Therapy

Social Occupational Therapy: Theoretical and Practical Designs grounds students in the social issues surrounding occupational therapy theory and practice. This first edition offers a global view of the role of occupational therapy and the potential contributions to their societies.

In this Q&A, authors Roseli Esquerdo Lopes and Ana Paula Serrata Malfitano share their insights into how this new title’s unique perspective will prepare today’s student to respond respectfully to social field issues.


What do you hope students and educators take away from this new title?

We have been developing social occupational therapy for many years in Brazil. We hope to offer a discussion about social issues in occupational therapy, with the possibility to apply them in different contexts around the world. I think students and educators can learn from these different experiences as well as the theoretical backgrounds connected to how occupational therapists can practice in social contexts related to social issues in different ways.

What are the main considerations you took into account when adapting this title into English speaking markets?

It is necessary to consider that the translation process is always hard—it’s not just the translation of words, but the translation of ideas and arguments. We thought a lot about how to do this and we had a very careful process. First, we had the translation from a Brazilian linguist professional who is bilingual and familiar with occupational therapy.

An English-speaking professional also reviewed the articles, and then we invited some academic occupational therapists who work or used to work in an English-speaking environment to read the articles. They let us know what we could adapt or explain in terms of occupational therapy terminology in English context, because we have different vocabulary and ways to express our work. The authors could then see the chapters again. I think we tried to be more readable and more understandable for people who will access this topic in English for this book. Most people think, “it’s just put in another language,” but it’s really more than that. Working with these professionals was very useful.

How have you seen occupational therapy change over the years?

We have a very dynamic process here in Brazil and in other parts of the world. I think it’s an important distinction when we talk about the biomedical paradigm and a social paradigm. We highlight that occupational therapists have contributions in both paradigms. However, nowadays when we face more contemporary challenges, occupational therapists might use their abilities to answer the call and contribute to society.

Specifically on social inequality, unfortunately, we have a history of exploitation and poverty here in Latin America, which is what pushes us to work with this context. But, thinking globally, when we talk about refugees or immigration, for example, we have a world process related to the social topics. We are challenged to go beyond the health system considering our skills and knowledge based on everyday life in occupational therapy, and what we can do to try to promote more participation, social inclusion, and life in society. We advocate that occupational therapists can have a specific role in social services as well.

Why was it important to you to have a global view of how occupational therapy plays a role in societies?

I think professionals in general exist to solve some social demand regardless of location. All professionals, occupational therapists included, need to be connected with contemporary society, which is becoming more and more global. Of course, we have the identities and the specificities in each place, and we also have differences in economy, culture and social aspects which always needs to be considered. However, in a globalized world, I’m not able to talk about a rich country without talking about poor countries as well. This globalization view of society affects all professionals—we should be thinking about our abilities and what we can provide related to social inequalities in society. What we cover in this book is related to social issues and occupational therapists’ contributions in their professional practices, thinking of everyday life for people and their social participation.

How is the World Federation of Occupational Therapists Minimum Standards for the Education of Occupational Therapists incorporated in this title?

The World Federation of Occupational Therapist (WFOT) has made a big importance to review the minimum standards for education. Now, they include the questions related to contexts, human rights, social rights and the ability of the professional to deal with this kind of situation. To offer an education in occupational therapy nowadays, the school needs to integrate these points and teach about human and social rights, social context, where people live and why they live certain kinds of injustice.

We have a lot of important concepts integrated in this title related to social life that nowadays are part of the minimum standards for the education of occupational therapists. I think we have a piece of contribution in this point because we are presenting some theoretical and practical examples and situations related to these topics.

How can students prepare themselves for some of the challenges in occupational therapy covered in this book?

Occupational therapist students have a lot of challenges when studying occupational therapy because they face vulnerable situations in all fields. When we talk specifically about social issues, like people facing poverty, living on the street, in prison, and other challenging situations, it’s not an easy thing. What I think is important for students in occupational therapy is trying to understand the connection between the macro- and the micro-structures within societies and try to do theoretical reading of society. This book offers theoretical background and practical examples that people can study to see and to create new ways occupational therapists should act in these challenging contexts.

What skills do you think would be most important for students to learn going into occupational therapy?

We have two levels of skills that are really important. The first one is related to techniques and frameworks. The second level is related to the values about the other, “othering”, what it means to try to put yourself in the place of the other. Students should ask themselves “how can I put myself in the place of the other to be a good professional in terms of the necessities that the other person presents to me?”. We need skills, such as respect, non-judgment actions, and listening, for example. They are also professional skills and abilities just as important as techniques and framework. We should consider both levels of skills to learning about occupational therapy.   

What advice do you have for instructors teaching occupational therapy and addressing these social aspects?

Something that is very important for us based on social occupational therapy is the connection between macro and the micro situation. We shouldn’t see a personal situation without the connection with the social aspects. If you do this, we don’t understand the complex context that people are involved. It can be dangerous to classify people and some individual aspects that are related over different social conditions.

The structure of social policies usually puts an explanation in a very individualized way. In a bigger picture, we have this kind of situation. I think the first piece of advice would be, find the connection between micro and macro contacts. Always ask yourself what is happening here, and what kind of situation is present, and, based on this, how can you act in an articulated way: individual and context together.