The profession of occupational therapy (OT) has many of its roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement, a response to the industrialized production at the end of the nineteenth century which promoted a return to handcrafting (Hussey, Sabonis-Chafee, & O’Brien, 2007). Its origins also were strongly influenced by the earlier Moral Treatment Movement, which sought to improve the treatment of the institutionalized mentally ill population (Hussey et al., 2007).
Therefore, the use of art and crafts in psychiatric settings has played a significant role in OT from the beginning. Furthermore, a core idea in the development of OT is that “occupation, or doing with the hands, can be seen as an integral part of experiencing a meaningful life” (Harris, 2008, p. 133).
Crafts have many potential therapeutic applications: motor control, sensory and perceptual stimulation, cognitive challenges, and enhanced self-esteem and sense of efficacy (Drake, 1999; Harris, 2008).
Crafts, too, are also often used to assess cognitive functioning: “Crafts were selected because they can be standardized to present new information that is meaningful to the disabled most of the time” (Allen, Reyner, Earhart, 2008 p. 3).
However, in recent OT literature the term “craft” appears to have acquired less worthy connotations. In addition, the emergence of art therapy as a psychoanalytic tool, as well as the use of arts and crafts in recreational therapy, questions the role of the arts in current OT practice with psychiatric patients.
In a study assessing the perspective of inpatient psychiatric clients on occupational therapy, it was found that arts and crafts were the most popular of sixteen activity groups offered. However, only a third of the participants in the arts and crafts group indicated that they found the activity to be helpful and beneficial (Lim, Morris, & Craik, 2007).
An earlier study revealed only a slightly higher than neutral rating of craft groups among psychiatric patients randomly assigned to various activities (Kremer, Nelson, & Duncombe, 1984).
In the course of my investigation of the use of art in occupational therapy in inpatient psychiatric settings, a recurring complaint in several articles was the lack of research on both subtopics: the current role of arts and crafts in OT, and the current role of OT with psychiatric patients.
Although the studies quoted offer only moderate support to the hypothesis that arts and crafts are beneficial to psychiatric patients, they are only two studies. Furthermore, rather than refute the use of arts and crafts altogether, they reinforce the doctrine common to occupational therapy that any treatment must be specifically tailored to fit the interests and needs of the client.