The life world of the occupational therapist : meaning and motive in an uncertain world

Finlay, Linda (1999). The life world of the occupational therapist : meaning and motive in an uncertain world. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the life world of twelve occupational therapists. Interpretivist, phenomenological methodology has been employed to capture the central features of what it means to be an occupational therapist. Assumptions arising from phenomenological, social constructionist and hermeneutic theories underpin the methodology. Data gathered from nine in-depth interviews, three participant observations and personal reflection, were analysed in an attempt to understand the therapists' own view of their reality.

Four global themes emerged through analysing the findings both phenomenologically and reflexively : 1. Who am I?: The fraught search for an occupational therapy identity; 2. The mission to make a difference : Enacting the therapists' craft; 3. Negotiating the boundaries : The caring-power relationship; 4. Safe haven or battleground? : Collaboration and conflict within the team.

Analysis revealed that whilst the therapists' sense of professional identity is profoundly confused, these professionals are committed to holistic, person-centred values and sustained by a belief that occupational therapy promotes health-enhancing change. Therapists are challenged by caring-power relationships as they struggle to negotiate degrees of involvement and are damaged by pressures, abusive people and lack of professional recognition. Their sense of achievement when they make a difference helps them to regenerate themselves and they are 'healed' when valued in relationships with both patients/clients and team members. Throughout their various challenges, struggles and satisfactions, therapists are engaged in a search to find themselves and to cope in their uncertain world.

Whilst the findings largely confirm the existing literature, they also offer some challenges. Therapists' experience has been found to be more complex (intense, ambivalent and contradictory) in practice than the literature indicates. A discussion explores the implications of the research for professional practice. The thesis also critically examines the use and value of phenomenology and reflexivity as research methods.

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