The professional identity of occupational therapists : an empirical study
There has been an understanding that occupational therapists suffer from a weak professional identity. This qualitative study examined the ways in which the professional identity of occupational therapists was perceived from the stance of practitioners, educators, and those working for the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) and the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine (CPSM). There are many ways of defining 'profession'. In this case the perspective of symbolic interaction was taken and Becker's (1977), explanation of it as a symbolised concept was used. This framework was used to generate an interview schedule for 50 in-depth interviews, which facilitated an exploration of the actions that were undertaken to expand professional status, how individuals and collectives had interpreted those actions and the ways in which meaning was attributed to professionalism. The research findings showed notable differences in interpretation between practitioners and organising bodies. Practitioners were confident that occupational therapy could claim a discrete body of knowledge but collective actions to align the skill to science had undermined its value. Changes in education, whilst beneficial to status, have weakened the capacity of the profession to control how it is managed. Government measures to monitor the competence of all health professionals have placed a greater imperative on occupational therapists' self-regulatory mechanisms to be visibly effective. A code of ethics is important for professional cohesion and has more potency than previously thought but events have made it difficult for occupational therapists to live a service ideal. In essence the profession was not acting as a cohesive unit. There needs to be a stronger identification with a unique skill with more professional control over what form the work should take. There should be effective gate-keeping guarding against inappropriate admissions to the profession, effective monitoring of competence and discipline and a strong code of ethics. Socialisation has the potential to enhance individual professionalism and strengthen collective professional identity. Exploring these issues requires co-ordination, a purpose for which professional bodies, in this case COT, were established.