An undergraduate mental health pathway: WFOT perspective.
Article Type: Letter to the editor
Subject: Occupational therapy (Study and teaching)
Mental health (Study and teaching)
Education (Standards)
Education (Analysis)
Authors: Hocking, Clare
Ness, Nils Erik
Pub Date: 05/01/2011
Publication: Name: British Journal of Occupational Therapy Publisher: College of Occupational Therapists Ltd. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 College of Occupational Therapists Ltd. ISSN: 0308-0226
Issue: Date: May, 2011 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 5
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 257434748
Full Text: Madam,

Bannigan et al (2011), from York St John University, argued the case for a radical reorganisation of occupational therapy education. Arising from their concerns about graduates' readiness to practise in diverse mental health settings, they proposed an undergraduate mental health pathway designed to equip graduates with 'the core competencies of a generic mental health practitioner and the specialist occupational therapy skills' (p155). While acknowledging the ramifications for therapists' registration status with the Health Professions Council, they overlooked the implications for World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) approval of such curricula. In the spirit of healthy professional debate of new ideas, we respond to a number of their assertions from our perspective as authors of the WFOT's Revised Minimum Standards for the Education of Occupational Therapists (Hocking and Ness 2002).

Bannigan et al attribute the breadth of current occupational therapy curricula to the profession's commitment to holism. Whatever the truth of that assertion, ensuring that curricula span both mental and physical health conditions was mandated in the WFOT minimum standards published in 1958, and in all revisions through to 1993. The current standards require educators to make occupation--the profession's core concept--central. All other aspects of curriculum design--educators' knowledge of the local health and welfare needs, and of health and legislative systems; the curriculum content and structure, practice placement education, educational resources and faculty; and graduate competencies--are viewed from an occupational perspective. Nonetheless, the contextual and educational matters that educators are charged with factoring into curricula design encompass all the concerns that Bannigan et al identify as essential elements of a mental health pathway: the legislative and policy developments specific to mental health settings, the shared capabilities expected of health practitioners, working in multidisciplinary teams in community-based services and nonstatutory services, framing intervention within the recovery model, payment by results, the specialist occupational therapy skills identified by the College of Occupational Therapists, gaining skills and knowledge on practice placements, and research-informed teaching.

In essence, Bannigan and colleagues' argument for a mental health pathway rests on their perception that because of 'increasing pressures on the curriculum' (p154), the mental health content gets 'amalgamated under a broad umbrella' (p154). The solution they propose is to remove content related to physical health conditions that are not prevalent among mental health service users. Whether a curriculum specialising in mental health would be judged to meet the WFOT standards might depend on how well its designers argued the case that it addressed 'the health needs of the population' (Hocking and Ness 2002, p7) and their account of 'the kinds of work the graduates are ... being prepared to do, and the range of settings within which they are expected to be able to work' (p9). Potentially, that argument would need to be repeated in every WFOT member country in which graduates sought employment. Alternatively, occupational therapists might resolve the pressures on undergraduate education by developing postgraduate programmes with specialised focuses, such as on occupational therapy within mental health, with older people or children, or occupational therapy's contribution to health promotion.

Dr Clare Hocking,

Associate Professor, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand.

Nils Erik Ness,

Associate Professor, HiST, Vice-President, Norwegian Association of Occupational Therapists, Oslo, Norway.

Bannigan K, Lewis P, Laver-Fawcett A, Wolverson C, Long C, Cadman D, Cotterill D (2011) Is it time for a mental health pathway in undergraduate programmes? British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(3), 153-55.

Hocking C, Ness NE (2002) Revised minimum standards for the education of occupational therapists. Forrestfield: World Federation of Occupational Therapists.
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