Thursday, June 22, 2017

Case study: Demise of a professional membership organization

Unless there are dramatic changes in statistical trends, the New York State Occupational Therapy Association may face insolvency and may be forced into dissolution in the very near future.

Two years ago I reported that the NY State OT Association was at a critical juncture. At that time, only 4.4% of all NY practitioners were members of the group.  During the period of time from 2006 through 2014 NYSOTA OT/OTA membership declined 24%.   The decreasing trend of participation is continuing.

According to statistics published by NYSOTA, now there are only 379 OT members and 120 OTA members.  In consideration of the total of OT practitioners in NY State (17,318 total) that is a membership participation rate of 2.9%.  This is decreased from the rate two years ago of 4.4%

According to publicly available financial information (Form 990), NYSOTA's net assets are in free fall.

2012        $180,045
2013        $135,154
2014        $107,234
2015        $  88,333

Percentage change over this period of time: 51% decrease

Additionally, management fees, NYSOTA's largest expenditure, are increasing dramatically:

2013: $56,000
2014: $74,980
2015: $75,000

Percentage change over this period of time: 34% increase

Membership revenues are flat.  NYSOTA is currently relying on revenues from its annual conference in order to sustain itself.


1. Convene the NYSOTA Board and create a dissolution review committee that can begin to evaluate the potential to sustain the organization.

 2. The current governance structure is failing.  Consider changes to the Bylaws to re-create a representative structure. Organize the structure around schools that are geographically distributed throughout the State. Have each school comprise a council that can be no more than 49% academicians. The other 51% of each local council can be public members, clinicians, or other stakeholders.

3. Create a new NYSOTA Board structure that is strategic (not operational) in its purpose and has representation from each local council. Again, limit academic power on the executive board, no more than 49% composition.

4.  Immediately engage an efficiency and ethics review process for all contracts within the organization - particularly the management contract. Establish a timeline for re-negotiating contracts as possible with approval of a newly constructed Board that is operating under newly constructed bylaws.

5. Offer free membership to every OT practitioner in NY.  Invite donations to help during the transition period.   Open up all processes for full transparency.

6. Focus short term efforts on the annual conference because of its historic revenue generation.


This information is all cited from publicly available documents and represents a cautionary case study for anyone interested in the challenges of operating a professional membership association.  OT practitioners in New York State and elsewhere require robust organization in order to address legislative and policy issues that will impact practice.  The current member organization is failing and this places all practitioners at risk in New York State.  The significance of this problem can not be overstated.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

OT History in Clifton Springs!

A group of people made OT History today - pulling off an amazing day of celebration in Clifton Springs that was enjoyed by so many attendees.

Eighteen months ago I started corresponding with Steve Egidi, an occupational therapist and Vice President of the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  He invited me to join a working group that was forming to help make plans for  the 100th OT Anniversary Celebration in Clifton Springs.  Steve was a steady organizing force for the group and it was a real pleasure getting to work with him.

Also from the Chamber was Jeff Criblear, President of the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  Jeff did amazing work with restoring the 50th anniversary plaque and also helping to coordinate so many of the Centennial celebration activities with the Clifton Springs community.

The glue behind the entire project was undoubtedly Jamie Noga, Coordinator from the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce.  Jamie did it all - she kept us all organized and on track, managing all of the details behind the scenes.  Jamie was fantastic!

Jim Conners, Clifton Springs Village Historian was also a pleasure to work with - and his work in creating the occupational therapy exhibits at the museum with the staff there was fantastic.

Les Moore, from the Clifton Springs Historical Society, also made many valuable contributions to the group - most memorable to me was delivering the graveside memorial service that we held with the Barton family the morning of the event.  It was such a moving service and it was a memory that I will cherish.

Corky Glantz, also an occupational therapist and former AOTA Board member, joined our group and was very helpful in communicating with AOTA.  We have Corky to thank for helping to initiate contacts and coordinate those efforts.

Linda Shriber, occupational therapy program director from Nazareth College, also provided invaluable guidance and support for the entire project.

Rochelle Marx-Asher, occupational therapy fieldwork coordinator at Bryant and Stratton College was critical in helping to organize student volunteers for floats and also for helping to coordinate entertainment for the event (by volunteering her husband!)  The music was fantastic!

My own part was small, but I got lopsided media face time for the project since I was the one who did the presentation during our ceremony today and did a few interviews with local media outlets.


There are so many others - the Keuka College students who 'ran security' in front of Consolation House, the Nazareth and Bryant and Stratton students who ran the 'kids tent,' the Utica College students who marched in the parade, the Orange Community College program that made a float, the SUNY at Buffalo students who made a float, representative from NYSOTA that marched in the parade, and representatives from AOTA who served as Grand Marshals and who also gifted the community with a 100th anniversary plaque, donated the 'Flat' Founders and banner, and also gifted the community with a new seal (that is another story!).


Thanks also to the OT community who came and celebrated, and especially to the Barton family who came and shared stories and fellowship.  I also want to thank Karen and Patrick Boland who were so gracious in allowing us to visit their home (former Consolation House).


I hope I have not forgotten anyone.  I will certainly edit this if I have made any accidental oversight.  We made OT History today!  Thanks to all!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Re-post: The Passion from a kid's perspective

A story worth re-posting:

A fairly standard component of my pediatric occupational therapy evaluations is to ask the child to draw a picture of themselves. This assessment technique provides an opportunity to evaluate the child's skill with writing and also is a functional assessment of their cognitive and perceptual ability.

Sometimes kids draw things that just beg to be probed and questioned - as was the case recently. I watched intently as 6 year old Patrick drew a representation of himself, but then he began adding odd details to his picture. First he colored dark spots on his figure's hands and feet, and then added a row of X's across the forehead.

I leaned forward and quizzically asked, "Patrick, what are these marks here?"

He looked at me for a moment and then responded: "Jesus died for you, you know. He got nailed to a cross, in his hands and his feet. My Dad said that he had to wear prickers on his head and it made him bleed."

"Oh," I replied, not knowing what else to say. I figured he was hearing about the Lenten season and Easter. "Keep drawing, Patrick," I added. I was curious about what else he would add to his picture.

I wasn't disappointed. Patrick added a few more shapes to his drawing. The first looked like a cross, so I asked him "And what is this?"

Patrick didn't disappoint my curiosity. "It's the cross, Dr. Chris. That is where Jesus died. And this is all the people that wanted him to die, but now they are really sad." He added a few sad faces to the drawing, around the base of the cross.

At this point I wasn't really looking at his drawing ability; I was just interested in how much this very young child knew about the Passion. These are the kinds of things that can add a lot of texture to an assessment.

I pointed to the next shape, expecting him to tell me that it was where Jesus was buried, and where he rose from the dead. "Tell me, Patrick, what is this over here?"

Patrick looked at me as if I flew in from another planet, and with a look of disbelief on his face he said, "Dr. Chris... That's a square. Don't you even know that?"

These are the things I learn from the children I work with.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The meaning of a word cloud

This image caught my attention when I attended the Presidential Address at the AOTA national conference in Philadelphia last week, and it has been tweeted around in occupational therapy circles since that time.

The question is - what does it mean?

The AOTA president discussed population health as a concept that she believes will be integral to occupational therapy's future vision.  Unfortunately, this vision has more to do with a misguided alignment with payment models (Triple Aim) than anything to do with patient care.

This unusual vision has been promoted by other occupational therapists and also discussed extensively in this blog here and here and here and here, to link a few.

What exactly is the meaning of this word cloud?  The initial intent of word clouds was to provide a base narrative analysis of content within written text.  Even at their best they are crude, because the words are presented in a decontextualized format.

In this example the word cloud is a manipulative message driving tool that is mis-used to promote certain ideas over other ideas.  In this particular representation we are led to thinking that 'Population Health" is an important concept and related critically to other concepts including "Care Coordination" and "Triple Aim" and "Outcomes" and "Patient Centered."

The words are neatly arranged in appealing colors and in various sizes so that certain messages will catch our attention.

But what is the source of the data that is used to populate the word cloud?  Are we supposed to believe that these words represent occupational therapy practice?  Or occupational therapy values?  Or something that some academic dreamed up after nodding off during a Donald Berwick lecture?

We are never given that information.   We are simply presented with words, and led to believe that they are important.  We are led into a state of obsequity, and it is assumed that we should just trust the messenger.

In a presentation at the 2015 OT24VX online conference I stated that some occupational therapists are promoting a Fourth Paradigm concept focusing on population health and its relation to the "rights" and "justice" framework.  The occupational justice paradigm, represented in a General Systems Theory framework, looks quite different from the contemporary paradigm that focuses on occupation.  Instead of intervening at the level of the individual the new model suggests intervention at higher levels of social and cultural complexity.  These new models all emerged out of the mid-1990s, a time where we have to consider the impact of the Internet and subsequent globalization of the profession.   Through the proliferation of journals and the increased international communication, occupational science became a world-wide academic discipline.  Suddenly we were contending with concepts of occupational justice, sustainability, climate change, and broad public health - ideas that were very new to an occupational therapy context and that don't always have social and political fit across international contexts. Many people question whether these ideas even fit into occupational therapy practice at all.

There is still little agreement among proponents of these models what all of the ideas actually mean or how they are translated into practice to help people and reimbursed by third parties.  In fact the academics are still writing word cloud articles and admitting that their concepts have no logical coherence or systematization for practice (Hammell, 2017).

That does not seem to dissuade the motivated messengers.

edit: (added) Social media chatter apparently precedes action.  I just learned that a group has created a new forum on OT Connections where they can congregate and discuss their ideas.  The group, predictably, is comprised of almost all academicians and will be functionally sequestered and insulated from feedback from the profession at large via the protective membership paywall of AOTA.  During the business meeting at conference we learned that half of all AOTA members are students who are frequently mandated to join by their academic programs, and a sizable but undisclosed number of other members are their professors.  This creates a questionable context to hold a conversation about practice.  Would the group be willing to move their conversation to a place where more practitioners would be more able to participate?

I encourage population health or public health or occupational justice or social justice proponents to stop feeding the profession these word clouds (whether presented at a conference or in an academic journal) and instead try linking these ideas to real practice where they can be tested against reality of specific care contexts.

The proponents of these ideas should also specifically address the many questions that have already been raised.  Practitioners in the US see that social justice was taken out as an enforceable principle in the Code of Ethics.  They have seen a statement on sustainability go up in flames in the RA.  But they still see leaders promoting these same ideas in context of poorly defined population health models.

Proponents of these ideas need to explain the justification for continued adherence to poorly defined ideas that have been the source of significant professional disagreement.


Hammell, K.R. (2017). Critical reflections on occupational justice: Towards a rights-based approach to occupational opportunities. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 84(1), 47-57. doi: 10.1177/0008417416654501

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The danger of assuming universal and singular narrative explanations of disability

In a recent article appearing on the CNN website, author Wayne Drash reviews the concept of 'wrongful birth' in context of Lesli, a person who has developmental disabilities.  Drash's profile states that he "specializes in stories off the radar" and that "his passion is to tell narratives about life and the unfolding drama of the world we live in."

It would be more accurate to state that Drash cherry picked one person's perspective and advanced a fiction that serves one ideological perspective.

His initial description of Lesli in his opening sentence tells us everything he believes about her person-hood.  He immediately goes to the 'fetal position' trope that promotes his message of Lesli's helplessness and haplessness.

For just a moment the reader is led to believe that there may be another side of the story to be told as he describes Lesli's joy at having her mother hold her hand - but the author quickly reverts to reporting the pain that Lesli's mother experiences, how she has cried more than anyone how she could barely sleep given the severity of her daughter's condition.  Then we are provided the quote that the mother does not know if her daughter even knows who she is.

The story of Lesli and her mother is framed in context of proposed legislation in Texas that would reverse the decision that allows 'wrongful birth' lawsuits.  Apparently, Lesli's mother won such a suit many years ago based on an argument that the doctor failed to tell her that she had rubella.  The mother states that she would have chosen an abortion rather than "watch her daughter suffer pain."

The testimony in this particular case is that the doctor states he did not think that the mother ever had rubella.  So, there was no 'choice' to offer her.  She won a lawsuit against that doctor for his missed diagnosis.  The money remains in a trust fund for the care of Lesli.

The mother advocated strongly for Lesli over the years, pursuing education related to rubella and its impact on pregnancy, and working to improve the special education curriculum in Dallas and Wichita Falls.

That might have been the narrative for the mother to hold - but her narrative instead is that she wishes that she was never born so that her child would have never been born.

That particular narrative is unquestionably hers to have, but Drash's error is in elevating that narrative without telling any other side of the story.

There is little doubt that this is a story where the mother experiences pain and there is little doubt that she has come to the narrative conclusions that she has come to.  They are as real as the situation that she experiences.  However, that narrative conclusion is not the same narrative conclusion reached by all people.  That is a primary error in this story.  That is also a reflection of the immoral choice  by Drash that cherry picks a single narrative.

What is the alternative narrative?

Lesli's mother might have defined her experiences in terms of selfless love given to a child.  Or of how a single person can take on an entire system and improve education for thousands of other children.  Or of the quality of life that Lesli experiences, exemplified by the simple act of human connection - of holding hands.

We are not given any of that possible narrative because even though these things happened it is not the expressed narrative of Lesli's mother.  Does that mean that the narrative does not exist for others?

All that we are given by the author is that when there is a meaningful interaction with Lesli, she moans.  [emphasis mine.]

"Mom and daughter now hold hands.  Lesli moans."
"Lesli moans through much of the session..."

Lesli's mother has a right to form whatever narrative she chooses.  But there are others.  Not everyone defines their lives in the same way.  Not everyone looks at their child who has a disability and would have chosen elective abortion to pre-empt their perspective on suffering and pain.

If we accept the narrative of Lesli's mother, where are we left?  Would we abort all children who might experience suffering and pain?  Would we eliminate that same pain from our lives?

When we advance a single narrative to the exclusion of others we risk misrepresenting the story.  It is not true, as Lesli's mother states, that people don't care about her daughter.  The article itself reports that Medicare and Medicaid will pay about $200,000.00 for the cost of Lesli's care for the next year.  That policy is an expression of a social value.  That social value is rather clear that many people are caring.

I don't doubt the pain that Lesli's mother perceives, and I am not judging her perspective.  I am just pointing out that it just happens to be a single narrative.  And there are others.

Some parents experience the same pain that Lesli's mother experiences but they do not frame their perspectives in the same way.  In fact, some parents frame their experiences in the exact opposite way and the idea of aborting their child, even though their is suffering and pain, is unthinkable.

The alternate narrative, one that I have had a lot of experience with, reads differently.  The alternate narrative focuses on the love expressed by holding hands.  The alternate narrative focuses on the quality that the child can experience, or the meaning that the parent created out of what seemed like a senseless event.  The alternate narrative sometimes turns the concept of disability on its head and forces everyone else to examine their values!  The alternate narrative does not involve descriptions of fetal positions and moaning.  It is best expressed in the words one parent told me that I will never forget:

So though there were tears, there was laughter more.  
And though there was pain, there was joy more.
And when things seemed bleakest, go... feed the birds.
And the world will right itself.

That is another narrative that exists in the world.  There are undoubtedly even more.  It is good for us to be reminded of this fact when we are reporting on "narratives about life and the unfolding drama of the world we live in."

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Barton Project: AOTA 2017 Conference Handouts

Hi and thank you for stopping here to look at the poster handouts that are being distributed at the 2017 AOTA conference!

If you were unable to get a copy of the handout of the poster presentation, the files below are hi-res JPG scans that you can download and view in a larger format.

This version of the timeline is one small step of a multi-year project attempting to document George Barton's life.  I was always struck by the fact that his life story was documented in such a limited way as compared to other occupational therapy founders.  The lack of previously published information on Barton motivated my effort.

Having personal geographic proximity to Clifton Springs made the project interesting from that perspective as well.

This effort started by happenstance and with a meeting my wife Caroline had with George Barton Jr.'s wife Barbara.  She was kind enough to supply materials to us that started this inquiry.  A visit to Consolation House also yielded results with the owners (at that time) looking to have the occupational therapy community have possession of some additional ephemera.

We accepted these materials with the promise to use them for study and for advancing the biography of George Barton which has previously not been fully highlighted.

Over the last several years I have combined those materials with other biographical research and  began constructing blog posts that are now catalogued under the site.

Over the last year it has been my pleasure to find new friends in Clifton Springs who were planning a 100th anniversary celebration of the occupational therapy founding that occurred in their community.  I am especially indebted to the kind folk associated with the Clifton Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Clifton Springs Historical Society, various community members who are participating on their planning committee, and also some local educators who represent regional occupational therapy programs.  Some of the information obtained through this ongoing project will also be presented on June 3rd, 2017 during the Sulphur Springs Festival that will feature an occupational therapy centennial celebration.

I hope occupational therapists enjoy looking at these pictures and also enjoy looking through the blog and learning more about the history of their profession.  Use the address to navigate to the site, and use the 'Barton' and 'History' links on the blog to find more information.  Many more detailed references can be found at the end of each blog post.

Governor Cuomo and the Early Intervention State Fiscal Agent boondoggle

Another update in the ongoing saga of the failing New York State Early Intervention program:

The Governor's 2018 budget proposal adds new requirements on insurance companies and providers.  Under other circumstances, a provider or fiscal intermediary would simply operate within the available rules that exist in the private marketplace, but since the State has designated a fiscal agent that is unable to compete in the free market, the Governor is forced to rewrite insurance laws in order to facilitate payment.

 In FY 2016, nearly 85% of claims submitted by the Early Intervention State Fiscal Agent to private insurers were denied.  The idea of cost sharing with private insurance has been a failure because the State botched the implementation and has contracted with an incompetent fiscal agent.  The breakdown of payment of Early Intervention costs has been as follows:

Private insurance: 2%
Medicaid: 41%
NY State: 27%
Counties: 30%

This is AFTER the State invested millions of dollars into a private contract for a State Fiscal Agent.  Providers went out of business in this transition and services to families have been compromised because of the ineptitude of the process - and now new laws are being proposed in order to address the obvious failure.

The following new proposals are included in the Governor's budget:

1. Placing new requirements on service coordinators and providers to obtain insurance information and signed IFSPs from referring doctors (attesting to medical necessity).

2.  Requiring providers to exhaust appeals before unpaid balances hit County books.

3. New mandates for payment on insurance companies.

Having a requirement for a doctor to certify that an IFSP is medically necessary is unrealistic.  Additionally, not all early intervention services will fall within the strict guidelines of 'medical necessity' because the program is not only a 'medical program.'  This issue hits at the heart of what happens when States get into the habit of using Medicaid funds for non-Medicaid activities.

These kinds of reforms also become unwieldy and complicated simply because of the existence of the failed State Fiscal Agent.  So as an example, a provider must now exhaust appeals which seems reasonable - but if an insurer is denying payment because the fiscal agent has improper coding procedures or if they are billing under a non-participating provider - it only serves to slow payments to providers even more.

As I have advocated from the beginning of all this, releasing providers to compete directly in the private market and having them bill insurance companies directly would immediately solve all problems with participating provider denials and it would solve issues of odd local coding anachronisms.  The State could be free to negotiate whatever cost-sharing agreement with the insurers, probably through the creation of regional service level caps, at which point the balances would be billed or waterfalled to a centralized New York State reserve fund.  That would remove the Counties and the designated fiscal agent from the equation altogether, saving millions of dollars in program costs and in shifted Medicaid responsibility.

As it now stands, the NYS Senate rejects the Governor's proposals, the Assembly partially accepts them, and the Counties support the proposals but want even more protections in place so that these costs never hit their balance sheets.

What does that mean?  The proposal will be worked out in backroom deals in Albany, and the provider community and families will not have much voice in the process.  The system will continue to fail.

As I have indicated in the past, savvy providers will learn to participate in insurance networks privately (including Medicaid) and will learn to bypass this failed system by seeing families on a private basis.

Read more at these links - and contact your representatives if you want, but the real solution of eliminating the failed State Fiscal Agent and adopting a modified model of privatization as outlined above is not even on the table.

Read the FY 2018 Article VII Bill Health and Mental Hygiene (HMH):

Read the FY 2018 Memoranda in Support, Health and Mental Hygiene (HMH) Memo:

Read the NYSAC Budget Comparison Fact Sheet on Early Intervention:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Reasons to yawn: Wrap up analysis of two recent SCOTUS cases involving IDEA

On 11/8/16 I wrote

In both of these cases it is important to carefully analyze the details of what is actually being litigated.  So often the truth of what is being discussed gets lost in poor reporting about the topics.  For example, many news outlets focus on the 'evil school district vs. the child in the wheelchair with Wonder the GoldenDoodle' meme instead of focusing on the decidedly less appealing 'what is the importance of due process' angle.

As OTs become more savvy with policy analysis they will avoid the bias-trap of media reporting and try to approach a more 'rational comprehensive' method of considering the actual facts.  They will also become more savvy by dropping the naive notion that just because an issue might have the superficial appearance of something that should be supported, it is important to dive deeply into the actual policy to make sure we are promoting what is best for the people who seek our services.

Turns out that this analysis was essentially correct regarding the separate cases of Endrew and Fry.

In the Fry case the issue at hand turned out to hinge on the concept of 'administrative exhaustion' or whether or not a family had to satisfy IDEA due process rules before bringing an ADA lawsuit.  According to the decision, if the issue is not related to IDEA, there is no such requirement.  In this case the Fry family was not arguing about educational rights - they were arguing about wanting a monetary award for emotional distress.  Since the 'gravamen' of the concern was not IDEA the Court ruled that there was no need to exhaust IDEA due process.

This will have little to no impact on service delivery in school systems.  Over time we may see more lawsuits filed against schools earlier in the process, with savvy lawyers parsing out IDEA concerns and other non-IDEA concerns like 'emotional distress.'  Schools will have to respond differently to the possibility of dual-process complaints.

Bottom line: this was not an IDEA case.  It was a case that outlined rules for lawsuits under the ADA, wrapped in poor reporting and media obsession with the click-bait of little disabled children and their cute dogs.  The media got their clicks, the family got to sue under the ADA, lawyers have new strategies for making money, and the rest of us can go about our work.


The Endrew case was specifically related to IDEA as it wrestled with the central question of FAPE and what was considered 'appropriate.'  There have been a number of interpretations about FAPE criteria - most of the criteria discussed openly in courts but not openly in IEP meetings.  At issue was whether or not a de minimus standard could be considered 'appropriate' and the Court ruled that it was not.

That won't do many families much good because I don't  believe that most IEP teams sit around the table and design plans aimed at that low bar - and even if that is the end result of their efforts you would be hard pressed to ever find that recorded.  Schools will always believe that they are reaching for the stars.  An analysis of the mission statement of any school district shows the public proclamation that the goal is to create exemplary world citizens blah blah blah.

So even if the issue of FAPE came up in meetings before it was generally answered with 'We don't have to provide the BEST program; we have to provide a program they can BENEFIT from.'  In simple terms that is known as the Rowley standard, related to a previous SCOTUS decision.  Again, most school districts do not openly publicize that their definition of benefit is a de minimus standard.

The Endrew case is interesting in that it shuffles the words on FAPE, now indicating that a school has to provide an individualized education program that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.  That is a rejection of the de minimus standard - something that a word-parsing lawyer might argue in court but that I have never heard as a guiding policy around an IEP table.

Unfortunately, from the perspective of real world guidance, now you will hear schools say that their IEPs are designed in light of the child's circumstances and that they are reasonable.  The Court affirmed the role of schools acting in a good faith effort based upon local professional judgement - and specifically stated that they have no interest in developing a "bright-line" standard for schools to follow.  Deference is based on the expertise and judgement of the schools.  Plain and simple.

If you want to understand what the SCOTUS did with this case, look at this video, and imagine the bullets as 'the definition of FAPE'

As such, this decision also will not amount to much.  The definition of FAPE is no more clear today than it was under Rowley.  Perhaps the only thing that changed is that some lawyers will no longer make the de minimus argument.


Neither of these cases will have much lasting impact on everyday work in school systems.  They only clarify strategies to be used and avoided by lawyers when the rare case actually gets into a court.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

You can't keep a good event down...

...but you might delay things just a little while because of winter weather!

Today a gathering was scheduled in Clifton Springs for a celebration of the occupational therapy founding.  The mayor was also scheduled to issue a proclamation but the celebration had to be postponed due to inclement weather.   

The event will be rescheduled.


The March 8. 1917 Clifton Springs Press had an announcement about the upcoming First Consolation House Conference, but it also had an interesting article about George Barton.  The subheadlines and text of the article are notable because they provide direct evidence of exactly how the Clifton Springs community felt about his efforts and also how influential he was.

The article quotes an unnamed folk source as saying, "You can't keep a good man down, especially when he runs an elevator for a living."  The newspaper editor goes on to state "and in no instance has the editor found opportunity to apply this witicism, where it was found more appropriate than in the introduction of George Edward Barton, A.I.A., a resident of this village, who is known by many, and who but few, really know."

Barton's disability is described in detail, as is his effort to overcome those difficulties and help other people. 

We all look forward to the rescheduled celebration of George Barton and his efforts in Clifton Springs that founded the occupational therapy profession.

 "You can't keep a good event down!" 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A request for honesty about modern day practice in long term care facilities

Follow-up to Ethical occupational therapy practice in nursing home care

Studying historical phenomenon is helpful for framing modern problems - and so I would like to draw attention to an article that appeared in Modern Hospital in September 1922.

The author of the article, Christine Newman, was Head Aide of the Howell State Sanatorium for Tuberculosis in Howell, Michigan.  The facility is described as "a self-sufficient entity that aimed to meet the patients' and employees' every need with a working farm, apple orchard, convenience store, post office, water and heating plants and kitchen staff."

This model of 'self sufficiency' was common among asylums and sanitariums in the 19th century.  I would like to recommend Dr. Katherine Ziff's book Asylum on the Hill as well as her blog; these resources are invaluable to understanding a model of asylums during this time period and offer a counterpoint for understand modern institutions.

Ms. Newman's article, entitled "Defending my commercialism in occupational therapy," reminded me of the self-sufficiency model described in Ziff's book.  Ms. Newman's article describes the way that she views the occupational therapy service in 1922 and provides a justification for her perspectives and methods.

To start, she overtly states that the purpose of her occupational therapy work has both a "money and therapy aim."  She is decidedly pragmatic in her approach, believing that occupational therapy can serve both a therapeutic and financial benefit.  That is an unusual approach and occupational therapists today are not commonly heard discussing financial revenues so openly.

She outlines an interesting sequence of thinking to support her interest in both aspects.  Her core hypothesis can be represented in this sequence:

This would represent the therapeutic aspect of her thinking - but she layers on top of this the pragmatics of having the patient work on projects that she has need of.  Specifically, she expressed having a need of items that can "sell as fast as we can make them."  She is concerned that many aides were selling their items too cheaply and that this was a disservice to the people who were sick, whose labor should be recompensed as much as any well person.

Again, pragmatics are a guiding force in her approach, as she states
An occupational therapy aide particularly needs clever things [merchandise] because she is too poor to put her valuable labor on things that will not sell.  I know this sounds very commercial, but I still maintain there is just as much therapy in a number of salable things as in the same number of unsalable things, and I can do far more for my patients if my department is on a paying basis.

In ten months of work she incurred $1197.30 in expenses which included her salary and cash received by sale of goods produced was $818.35, leaving $378.95 that the sanitarium had to pay in order to maintain the OT department for the full year.  She was very hopeful that in the second year the OT department could pay for itself.

I was impressed with her argument and presentation, even if the underlying economic focus was troubling, because she at least had some core philosophy (see sequence above) that was  based on why she was doing certain activities.

That got me thinking about modern day occupational therapy in many long term care facilities, where the therapy is often reductionistic, biomechanically oriented, and not attendant to the patient's occupational needs.  There does not seem to be much of a theoretical focus on why a therapist chooses an upper extremity ergometer over repeated exercises with a cane or dowel with weights attached.  I also don't see anyone defending these methods.  Occupational therapists just do them.  And a lot of revenue is generated.

What is even more interesting is that there does not seem to be too much open conversation about the gross profiteering that goes on in those departments.  I am left wondering: what is the financial surplus of occupational therapy efforts in those facilities?  Are the departments self-sustaining?

Instead there are some general conversations about how therapists are supposed to be concerned about ethics in these environments and how different professional organizations get together and have concerns (AOTA/APTA/ASHA, n.d.). The purpose of this collaborative statement is to "emphasize clinician's responsibility to understand payers' policies and regulations, as well as their obligation to act ethically and to report inappropriate practices." (Brown & Hemm, 2015).

It is all very vague - and no one seems to be hitting the issue directly.

We all know that a lot of money is being generated by modern day occupational therapy, and that money is going somewhere.  So where is the modern day article from the clinicians in the field that is entitled "Defending my commercialism in occupational therapy?"

As I am interested in seeing such an article in the modern period, I implore one of my colleagues to write it.

Please incorporate a theoretical justification for the work being done in long term care facilities, even if the economic aspect will remain a primary focus.

I wonder if I will ever see such an article.  Perhaps people were just willing to be more honest about things in 1922?


embedded links, and...

AOTA/APTA/ASHA (n.d.) Consensus statement on clinical judgment in health care settings: AOTA, APTA, ASHA.  Downloaded 3/2/2017 from

Brown, J. & Hemm, M. (2015, May). ASHA, NASL address concerns in skilled nursing facilities.  The ASHA Leader, 20(5), 8. doi 10.1044/leader.NIB1.20052015.8

Newman, C. (1922). Defending my commercialism in occupational therapy. The Modern Hospital, 19(3), 250-252.

Ziff, K. (2012).  Asylum on the Hill. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Lenten message of Emmanuel practitioners that influenced the occupational therapy profession

I have previously documented (in presentation and in blog) the role of the Emmanuel Movement with regard to its overall impact on 'treatment' of mental health conditions at the turn of the century in general and its impact on George Barton in particular.  I have also documented some lingering impact of concerns with spirituality and how the topic has been reflected in some occupational therapy documents over time.  As we are on the eve of the Lenten season, and as we are properly situated in history to reflect on the crucible of values that contributed to the founding of the occupational therapy profession, this little sideways journey seems timely and appropriate.

Many occupational therapists enjoy using the term 'holistic' to describe their orientation and interest but few are adroitly capable of putting such diversity that includes spirituality into actual practice.  This has always been the case - even when turn of the 20th century 'providers' made the attempt.

Emmanuel methods centered around a merger between medicine and spirituality: a medical clinic with free weekly examinations, a weekly health class with multidisciplinary lectures on medical, psychological and spiritual health, and private psychotherapy/counseling sessions.  Reverend Elwood Worcester, founder of this movement, specifically recruited well known Boston physicians (Putnam, Cabot, Pratt, and Coriat) to lend medical credibility to his ministerial efforts (Caplan, 1998).

From the start, Elwood Worcester had difficulty distancing his methods from the controversial Christian Science movement and the work of Mary Baker Eddy.  The methods were not at all similar; in fact Eddy spoke out against what some termed the 'mind cure movement' and specifically stated her opposition to people like Worcester.  These differences were outlined extensively in Willa Cather's series that appeared in McClure magazine from January 1907-June 1908 (nom de plume Georgine Milmine).

Clarence Farrar was a prominent psychiatrist who leveled blistering attacks on the Emmanuelists (1909), stating that their "faddist faith cure movement" arose from Boston, "the land of witchcraft and transcendentalism."  This kind of criticism from prominent medical leaders led to the waning of support from the Boston doctors that Worcester recruited.  As explained by Caplan (1998), these criticisms may have been primarily motivated by a desire for 'control' over the growing psychological movement.  Worcester and his colleague Samuel McComb attempted to respond (1909) but at that point the opinions of most medical practitioners were settled: psychotherapeutics was to be the domain of doctors and not of the clergy. 

The criticism was so powerful and effective that concerns were echoed many years later by occupational therapy leaders.  In the Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Occupational Therapy Association there was discussion about the need to develop a research base to help doctors understand the role of the new profession.  Herbert Hall (1922) stated, "We must be careful not to go about making claims for occupational therapy as the Christian Scientists do for their methods."  The Emmanuel practitioners were never able to fully shake the incorrect association of their approach with the Eddyists, and it is clear that physicians like Hall were sensitive to the negative association.

One of the final formal defenses of the Emmanuel method was published as an article in Good Housekeeping entitled Lent: A friend to the nervous (McComb, 1910).  Given the current season I choose to highlight this article in particular.

The article is interesting not only for its chronology in the medicine vs. religion debate, but also for its clarity in describing the universality of a 'Lenten' experience.  McComb wrote
Now I would like to contradict this idea [Lent as an ecclesiastical custom] and to assert very emphatically that while Lent may and ought to be used for ends that are strictly religious, it is pre-eminently a human institution, with a vital bearing on our earthly life and happiness.  We all need, at times, a complete break with our accustomed habits, with our ordinary ways of thinking, with our usual food and drink and recreations; and we all need this because we are all accustomed to get into ruts and grooves, until we become, as it were, mental and physical automatons instead of living, progressing, moral beings.

McComb further argued that Wordsworth (notably, a Transcendentalist) was sadly correct:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;-
Little we see in Nature that is ours

McComb believed that the Lenten season, applied across religious or non-religious convictions, could serve as a model for taking a pause in the busy-ness of life that was so culturally and socially unsettled at the time.  This is the precise message that was given to George Barton by Worcester - a directive to let go of his own suffering and to make sacrifices for 'the other fellow.'

The Lenten season, from religious definition, is all about hope and an Easter beginning.  The Lenten 'experience,' from a secular perspective, is an application of spiritual hope on a backdrop of confused and complicated modern living.

As a Christian man, Barton interpreted the Emmanuel Church message in directly Biblical terms, specifically related to Isaiah 61:3 when he used the term 'Beauty for Ashes' on his Consolation House logo (see picture above).    However, the Emmanuel Movement's message was more broad than simple and direct religious application, as summarized by McComb:
Lent is a reminder that two worlds are ours: the lower, with its miseries, its cares, its distractions, its worries; and the higher world within to which we can make our escape, with its faith and hope and love and peace.  As we lay hold of this higher, the lower world loses its grip upon us, ceases to paralyze us; and while we may not claim any mere stagnation or brute freedom from toil and care and responsibility, we may, nevertheless, have a secret that makes music in the heart and nerves us to rise triumphant over the strains and stresses of experience.

That was McComb's Lenten message, and it was the basis for an occupational therapy message that Barton put into action at his Consolation House project.


embedded links, and...

Archives of Occupational Therapy (1922).  The Fifth Annual Meeting of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Meeting of the Board and Members of the House of Delegates.

Caplan, Eric (1998). Mind Games: American Culture and the Birth of Psychotherapy. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press. Chapter 6: Embracing psychotherapy: The Emmanuel Movement and the American Medical Profession.  Available online at

Farrar, C.B. (1909). Psychotherapy and the Church, Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 36, 11-24

McComb, S. (1910). Lent: A friend to the nervous. Good Housekeeping, 50(3), 327-329.

Worcester, E. & McComb, S. (1909). Christian Religion as a Healing Power. New York: Moffat, Yard.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An unusual connection between American opera and George Edward Barton

There is a God whose laws unchanging
No one may hope to disobey.
Man's own desires forced upon the ordained way.
He for a moment triumphs,
He has his will,
He pays the penalty.
    (Barton, 1905)

The Pipe of Desire is a one act play published in 1905 by George Edward Barton, and set to operatic score by Frederick Converse.  It might be just a curious fact that architect George Barton attempted the role of librettist except for the historic implications of this effort.

We know that as a young man Barton was raised in a family "steeped in the arts and letters" (de Lancey, 1958).  From the same source we also know that he had a bicycle encounter in the English countryside with King Edward VII where they were both "whistling operatic arias."

So although Barton may have had early exposure to and enjoyed the operatic form there is not much known about the specifics of how the historic collaboration with Converse actually came about.  Coburn (1909) wrote, "Yet refreshing and spontaneous qualities of romanticism are distinguishing marks of Converse's output.  A brief analysis of the subject matter of "The Pipe of Desire" the words of which were written by Converse's personal friend, George Edward Barton, a Boston architect, will perhaps reveal the kind of work in which this composer delights."

Their collaboration may have been a simple function of an apparent friendship between Converse and Barton.

This was a daring collaboration because of longstanding controversy regarding the appropriateness of opera sung in English.  Coburn continues, "Popularization of American operatic music, such as Mr. Converse's, is peculiarly notable.  Serious opera has rarely emanated from an Anglo-Saxon source.  It is, indeed, something of a shock to listen to an opera that is not phrased in Italian, German, or French."

The world premier of The Pipe of Desire was on January 31, 1906 at Jordan Hall in Boston, and some reviews were unkind. Hale (1906) wrote,
"Mr. Barton, an architect in Boston, is a man of wide and curious reading.  Where did he find this legend?... Even if the symbolism were suggested consistently throughout the libretto, the book would not be well suited to operatic purposes, for it lacks both action and human interest."  Regarding Converse: "He has given dramatic interest to a libretto that is undramatic... All in all this opera music must be reckoned among the very first and few compositions of true importance that have as yet been produced in this country; it is music that would excite respect and admiration in any land."

Again, the theme of skepticism of American opera is notable, although the critic is more kind to Converse than Barton.

The Pipe of Desire was nonetheless accepted for performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on September 10, 1908 as reported in the Boston Evening Transcript despite the ongoing debates about validity of singing opera in English (Garofalo, 1994, p.37). 

After substantial preparation the work was finally presented on March 18, 1910, making the effort the first opera composed by an American and the first opera performed in English by the Metropolitan Opera.  A reviewer from The Sun (Henderson, 1910) wrote,

"Of course the symbolism is easy enough to read. But as a stage subject the story is not at all potent. The book certainly furnishes opportunity for picturesque groupings of nymphs and gnomes, for beautiful effects of light and shadow, for an exquisite woodland scene, admirably provided at the Metropolitan, and for moods not unsuited to the language of music. But there is nothing in the employment of details to clamor for musical utterance. In fact the text is seldom poetic in thought or melodious in technic. Many of the lines are hostile to lyric song and many are awkward in themselves even when considered merely as pieces of English... Mr. Converse was not inspired by it or, if he was, the gods did not make him operatic. His music is of a kind which suggests the respectable atmosphere of the oratorio concert. It lacks throughout the distinctness of theatrical utterance. The declamation in the recitatives is angular and void of spontaneity. The arioso passages are labored, and their attempts at expression are but moderately successful."

Perhaps, more simply, in the words of Isabel Barton, "The opera flopped." (de Lancey, 1958).  As she did not know George Barton at the time, the only basis of her report would have likely been what he shared with her.

And so it remains an unusual historic footnote that the first opera to be performed at the Met with score and libretto written by Americans and performed in English was a product of architect and occupational therapy founder George Edward Barton and his friend, Frederick Converse.

Score from The Pipe of Desire, signed by Frederick Converse to George Barton

Portrait of Frederick Converse, given to George Barton

Libretto from The Pipe of Desire, signed by George Edward Barton

Louise Homer, famous American contralto, as Naoia (reclined) in Pipe of Desire, performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910


Barton, George E. (1905). The Pipe of Desire and Other Plays. Boston: D.B.Updike, The Merrymount Press.

Coburn, Frederick W. (1909, January). Frederick S. Converse, Composer of Grand Opera.  The World To-Day. 16(1), 30-34.

de Lancey, B. (1958, May 9). George Edward Barton: Undaunted cripple's courage aided others. The Geneva Times, p. 2.

Garofalo, Robert J. (1994). Frederick Shepherd Converse (1871-1940): His Life and Music.  Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.

Hale, P. (1906, March). Music in Boston. The New Music Review and Church Music Review, 52(5), 773-774.

Henderson,  W.J. (1910, March 18). The Pipe of Desire Well Received.  The Sun.  Downloaded from

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Occupational therapy history: A lopsided tale told by the 'designated survivors'

Some overtly prejudicial information has been published about George Barton.  In an officially sanctioned history of the occupational therapy profession, Quiroga (1995) wrote that "Barton was undoubtedly an unusual if not eccentric character, who had difficulty knowing his own identity."  She also stated that "some of Barton's writings may have created more foes than allies to the cause" and that "George Edward Barton was an occupational therapy zealot" with a "near-crusade mentality" who "was undoubtedly a difficult person with whom to work in the organizational phase of the national association" who "did not possess the interpersonal skills that he needed" and "simply did not fit the profile of what his contemporaries considered to be a professional leader."

There is very little evidence to support this level of prejudice.  Quiroga misinterprets Barton's claim to being a 'sociologist' - forgetting to consider his training under William Morris.  She fails to understand and correctly interpret Barton's metaphorical style in his paper, "Inoculation of the bacillus of work."  There is no evidence at all that suggests Barton alienated the broad medical profession.  In fact, his minimal involvement in NSPOT following his resignation makes it nearly impossible to have had some negative impact on the developing profession.

As I have been documenting for the last several years, it is probably very fair to state that Barton was eccentric - but the extreme negativity is unwarranted.  Based on a study of correspondence between the Founders it is more accurate to state that the negative feelings towards Barton resulted from his withdrawal of his participation as an officer, the reluctance of and social mores preventing others to assume leadership roles at the time, and slow revisionism and selective 'remembering.'

Within 15 years of the founding meeting in Clifton Springs, five extremely influential individuals passed away: Barton, Herbert Hall, Susan Tracy, Susan Cox Johnson, and Thomas Kidner.  The truth is that Barton was not even alive long after the founding and could not have had much if any negative impact.  This series of deaths essentially left Slagle and Dunton to tell the occupational therapy story, and even though an attempt was made in 1967-8 at the 50th anniversary to obtain a more accurate picture of what happened around the founding, the effort clearly fell short.

Negative attributions of Barton were reinforced over  time.  In her farewell address to the profession, Slagle simultaneously respected and jabbed at George Barton's legacy:

 "In the words of the first President of this Association, Mr. George Barton, who retained the office six months and resigned because we were in debt $150 (lawyer's fee for legal services and organization papers) and because we saw no immediate way of raising the salary of a Secretary.  "I relinquish the honour of being your officer, proud to have been of any assistance to a cause so noble, and I lay down the office content in the knowledge that it can be more ably filled."

In fact, Barton did not relinquish his office because of the debt itself, but only because as President and Secretary he and Isabel could not take on the burden of fronting these fees by themselves.  Barton resigned his office in a letter to Dunton dated July 23, 1917 where he wrote

After very careful consideration, I have decided not to accept the possible renomination as President of the Society, but to withdraw in your favor.  This seems to me to be the eminently proper thing to do, and it will probably redound to the benefit of the Society.  I am not, of course, withdrawing my interest, and hope to be allowed still some word in its councils. 

In response on July 27, 1917 Dunton wrote to Barton, stating

I am extremely sorry that you should have reached the conclusion that you have, but I hope that you will reconsider it.  I am also sorry that you will not be presenting at the New York meeting.  I hope that you can make arrangements to be present as it seems to me that it would create a bad impression if you are not.  However, you are the best judge of your own conduct as I am not familiar with these circumstances which have brought about your decision.  I naturally feel like calling you and Miss Newton slackers, quitters, etc, but my natural politeness restrains me."

On the same day (July 27, 1917) Dunton also wrote to Slagle stating

I presume you have received Mr. Barton's notice.  I do not know what is the trouble, but am inclined to think that he has grown somewhat piqued.  I had written to him on Wednesday asking him to reconsider his decision of which he had written me, but evidently he had already made up his mind and my letter reached him too late to influence him.  He suggested that I be made President.  I do not want the job but at the same time I think it is very essential that our society be continued.

Barton responded to Dunton on August 8, 1917

I am sorry for the tone of your letter of August 6, and feel that your attitude is most unjust.  Also it seems a little strange to me that you are unable to understand that it is impossible for me to pay the salary of the Secretary of the Society.  When I undertook at your request to get things started and get together, I neither undertook to give up all my life to the Society nor to pay its expenses.

There is no record of the "August 6" letter in the AOTF archives that I could locate.  It may be a date error or there may have been an additional letter from Dunton that is not available.  Either way, Barton was quite clear on why he had to relinquish his office.  It is also quite clear that Dunton was irritated by the action and did not understand Barton's concern.

Slagle and Dunton carried their negative perceptions of Barton forward.  Barton's role in the founding was minimized and sometimes even left out of the history altogether.  Dr. Sidney Licht, a student of Dunton, wrote the following in 1948 even though he had no direct knowledge of Barton at all

This brief history comes to an end with the coining of the phrase Occupational Therapy.  Many non-medical persons have made considerable contributions to the field of medicine and it was left to a layman to coin this term.  George E. Barton, an architect by training, was greatly impressed by the type of work accomplished by Grohman and Hall and helped to organize at Clifton Springs, New York, an institution where by means of occupation, people could be retrained or readjusted to gainful living... Mr. Barton was an extremist and although he contributed much in the way of enthusiasm, he retarded the acceptance of occupational therapy by physicians as a result of his unbounded claims concerning the therapeutic value of work... It would be well to forget all but two of George Barton's words - occupational therapy.

Dr. Licht's comments are all the more curious in consideration of his admitted lack of information on Barton and the founding of NSPOT/AOTA.

George Barton published more early literature on occupational therapy than any of the other founders and was instrumental in coordinating and organizing the Consolation House meeting.  He understood the problem of disability from multiple perspectives, had knowledge of how to start and organize groups, and was motivated by his own spiritual and physical reformation.  Perhaps he was zealous and he was probably eccentric, but neither of those characteristics warrant the negative perceptions that have been published.

The evidence is clear and indicates that he is guilty of a simple thing: he could not afford to front the money by himself to support a fledgling Society.

I understand that some narrative approaches include a degree of sanitizing facts related to personal interactions of historical figures.  However, since so much prejudicial information has already been published about Barton it seems reasonable to delve into source documents and letters between the founders to correct the historical record.

The centennial anniversary of the occupational therapy profession offers a good opportunity to reappropriate Barton's contributions and cast them with a more even-handed perspective.

Since there is ample access to source historical documents, it is not correct to have the narrative dictated by the prejudices of the 'designated survivors.'


Correspondence retrieved from Wilma West library, AOTA Archives, and...

Barton, G.E. (1917). Inoculation of the bacillus of work. The Modern Hospital, 8(6), 399-403.

Licht, S. (1948). Occupational therapy source book. Williams & Wilkins: Baltimore.

Slagle, E.C. (1937). Editorial: From the heart. Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation, 16, 343-345.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The use of online journaling as a qualitative methods datasource

Ongoing ideas re: this topic.  Previously posted (in part) - now with edits and with references updated.
      During the Modern period most people achieved a basic level of education, opening up modes of writing including contexts of first person perspectives and autobiographies.  Weintraub (1995) states “the autobiographic genre took on its full dimension and richness when Western Man acquired a thoroughly historical understanding of his existence.”  Once this level of understanding was achieved it was possible for humans to consider their existence within individual contexts.
     Breines (1989) identifies that “human action can be understood only in terms of the relationships that it generates with the world.”  From a pragmatic perspective, Breines states that a person’s ability to ‘connect’ with the world is dependent upon active and meaningful engagement with the environment.  Not only is this a functional outcome for the individual, but it is also a functional outcome for all of society.  Writing provides a means toward both of these ends as it provides a medium for interactivity between the inner world of ideas and the outer world of reality.  Sartre (1949) stated that all good writing is social writing and is illuminated and constructed through the writer-reader ‘relationship.’   By this definition, I can’t write as a lone individual – there must be some ‘Other’ that answers or responds to my assertions.  In this sense, writing becomes an act of witness, and a medium for self-affirmation.  Modern theorists refer to this as a dialogic learning process (Nour, 2014).
     Even the seemingly disconnected medium of diary writing is a connected social discourse.  This is particularly evident in the opening salutation that is so common in journal writing: ‘Dear Diary…’  Anne Frank addressed her diary as “Kitty” which was a personalization of her discourse where she stated:

It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart” (Frank, 1952).

Although Ann did not believe that anyone would be interested in her story, her diary has been translated into nearly every modern language.  
     An appropriate following question would be ‘Why would people be interested in the private writings of another person?’ Bunkers and Huff (1996) explain that "diaries are not so much inclusive because they contain everything from a given day, as they are inclusive in the sense that they do not privilege 'amazing' over 'ordinary' events."   This celebration of the ‘ordinary’ is a longstanding theme in understanding meaningful occupation.  Diary writing and diary reading provides a vehicle of social connectedness through the ordinary.  This is a human need and is the basis of interactivity between the writer and the reader.
     The use of the diary as an interactive tool provides an example of what Rowles (1991) describes as a ‘surveillance zone,’ or an extension of personal space that has multiple uses.  These zones surround individuals and act as an area of potential socialization and contact with others.  Through the use of a diary, a surveillance zone may serve as an extension of a person’s self-definition and identity.   Reflective journaling has been used by educators as a learning tool.  Thomas (2015) used journals to collect qualitative data on the experiences of nursing students.  The widely cited Kolb Model (1974) has reflexivity embedded in the learning cycle; journaling in all of its forms meets the criteria for reflective methodology.  As an additional example, Garrouste-Orgeas, et al (2014) demonstrated the power of journaling in an ICU context and how a collective diary helped to facilitate communication and develop an ongoing narrative about experiences shared between families and staff.
     Online diaries provide a postmodern methodology for studying social spaces and interactions.  The term ‘postmodern’ is appropriate in this instance because it describes a virtual context where local environments and local relationships are no longer the basis of interactivity.  Rather, people congregate online at virtual places (websites) where information is shared and where writing occurs.  The nature of online interactivity includes, or even forces, dependence on the written form for communication.  Some researchers are beginning to explore virtual methods as a good source for narrative data for research studies.  Henker, Whalen, & Jamner (2002) identified anxiety patterns in a population of teenage girls through analysis of online journals and later adapted this virtual  technique to monitor the caregiving stress of parents who have children diagnosed with ADHD (Whalen, Odgers, Reed, & Henker (2011).  
     The proliferation of online writing anecdotally attests to the enjoyment of interactive journaling in a virtual context.  In addition to online diaries there are other ways that writing can act as an extension of Rowles’ ‘surveillance zones.’  For example, Stern (2002, 2004) discussed the opportunity of the Internet home pages as a forum for young women to create a narrative of their experiences.  This narrative becomes a performance of their lived culture and provides a means of self-expression.  Chandler (1998) applies the Levi-Strauss concepts of bricolage in describing the process that people use in construction of their online identities through authorship of their web pages.  The new virtual context, essentially described by its reliance on the interactivity of writing on the Internet, is a powerful and important forum for individual self-expression.  Dillon (2010) expanded on this method by using online journaling in place of interviews for understanding the self-identity construct in adolescents.    It is interesting to note that online journaling was initially studied in context of teenage girls and college student learning; researchers are still developing best methods for advantaging these large datasets for other populations.   
        The Internet will continue to have a significant impact on the occupation of writing in the future.  Hypertext allows people to write in a non-sequential post-structuralist format, such as was advocated for by Derrida; hypertext also meets the demands of multivocality, intertextuality and de-centeredness (Landow, 1992).  Individual self-determinism in narrative construction is important to consider in context of the ethical reading and interacting of such online datasets (Buitelaar, 2014).   
      The occupation of writing has been critical in social and individual development of human beings.    Writing offers a rich source of narrative information for understanding our historicity and for conducting inquiries into other occupations.  The accessible format of online journaling and the associated proliferation of journaling websites are both instant sources of data for qualitative studies. 

Breines, E.B. (1989). Making a difference: A premise of occupation and health, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 43, 51-52.
Buitelaar, J. C. (2014). Privacy and Narrativity in the Internet Era. Information Society, 30(4), 266-281.
Bunkers, S.L. & Huff, C.A., (Eds.). (1996). Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women’s Diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Chandler, Daniel (1998). Personal Home Pages and the Construction of Identities on the Web.  Retrieved on 1/17/17 from
Dillon, L. (2010). Listening for Voices of Self. Qualitative Research Journal, 10(1), 13-27.
Frank, Anne (1952). The diary of a young girl. New York: Bantam Books.
Garrouste-Orgeas, M., Périer, A., Mouricou, P., Grégoire, C., Bruel, C., Brochon, S., & ... Misset, B. (2014). Writing in and reading ICU diaries: qualitative study of families' experience in the ICU. Plos One, 9(10), e110146. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110146
Henker, B., Whalen, C.K., & Jamner, L.D. (2002). Anxiety, Affect, and Activity in Teenagers: Monitoring Daily Life With Electronic Diaries.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 660-670.
Kolb, D. A., & Fry, R. E. (1974). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. MIT Alfred P. Sloan School of Management.
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Rowles, G.D. (1991). Beyond performance:  Being in place as a component of occupational therapy,  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45, 265-271.
Sartre, J. P. (1949). Literature and existentialism. New York: The Citadel Press.
Stern, S.R. (2002). Virtually speaking: Girls' self-disclosure on the WWW.  Women's Studies in Communication, 25, 223-253.
Stern, S. R. (2004). Expressions of Identity Online: Prominent Features and Gender Differences in Adolescents' World Wide Web Home Pages. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(2), 218-243.
Thomas, J. A. (2015). Using unstructured diaries for primary data collection. Nurse Researcher, 22(5), 25-29. doi:10.7748/nr.22.5.25.e1322
Weintraub, K. (1995). Autobiography and historical consciousness.  In R. Smith (Ed.). Derrida and autobiography. Literature, culture, theory #16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Whalen, C. K., Odgers, C. L., Reed, P. L., & Henker, B. (2011). Dissecting daily distress in mothers of children with ADHD: an electronic diary study. Journal Of Family Psychology: JFP: Journal Of The Division Of Family Psychology Of The American Psychological Association (Division 43), 25(3), 402-411. doi:10.1037/a0023473