The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. The demand for occupational therapists in Canada is expected to grow sharply at an annual growth rate of 3.2%, compared to 0.7% for all occupations. At the same time, it is believed by occupational therapists in Canada that the Canadian public does not understand the role of occupational therapy. Occupational science is an emerging basic science field that supports the practice of occupational therapy. Given that newspapers are one source the public uses to obtain information and that newspapers are seen to shape public opinions, the purpose of this study is to investigate how “occupational therapy” is covered in Canadian newspapers from the term’s first appearance in 1917 until 2016 and how “occupational science” is covered from the term’s first appearance in 1989 to 2016. We interrogated the findings through the lens of three non-newspaper sources—two academic journals: Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy
(CJOT) and Journal of Occupational Science
(JOS); and one Canadian magazine: Occupational Therapy Now
(OTN). We found that medical terms were prevalent in the newspaper articles covering occupational therapy similar to the presence of medical terms in the CJOT and OTN. However, the newspapers missed contemporary shifts in occupational therapy as evident in the CJOT, OTN and JOS—such as the increased engagement with enablement, occupational justice and other occupational concepts. The newspapers also failed to portray the societal issues that occupational therapy engages with on behalf of and with their clients, and the newspapers did not cover many of the client groups of occupational therapy. Occupational science was only mentioned in n = 26 articles of the nearly 300 Canadian newspapers covered with no concrete content linked to occupational science. The scope of occupational therapy presented in Canadian newspapers may be one contributing factor to a situation where occupational therapists in Canada think that there is lack of public understanding around their role, as readers are not getting the full picture and as such approach occupational therapy with different expectations. Given the lack of coverage of occupational science, readers will likely obtain limited knowledge about occupational science and its focus.
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