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Research Article  |   January 2003
Professional Tensions in Client-Centered Practice: Using Institutional Ethnography to Generate Understanding and Transformation
Author Affiliations
  • Elizabeth Townsend, PhD, OT(C), Reg NS, is Professor and Director, School of Occupational Therapy, Forrest Building, Room 215, 5869 University Avenue, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3J5; liz.townsend@dal.ca
  • Lynn Langille, MA, is Research Consultant, Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Debra Ripley is Community Researcher and Coordinator, Mental Health Action Research Connection (MHARC), Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Article Information
Mental Health / Special Section: Qualitative Research
Research Article   |   January 2003
Professional Tensions in Client-Centered Practice: Using Institutional Ethnography to Generate Understanding and Transformation
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, January/February 2003, Vol. 57, 17-28. doi:10.5014/ajot.57.1.17
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, January/February 2003, Vol. 57, 17-28. doi:10.5014/ajot.57.1.17
Abstract

For almost 20 years, occupational therapists have advocated client-centered practice. Yet client-centered practice is fraught with tensions that arise outside the practice of individual occupational therapists. This paper is guided by two questions: What produces professional tensions in client-centered practice? and What understanding and change might be generated using institutional ethnography? The sociological theory and method of institutional ethnography are described using data from an ongoing investigation of mental health services as a social institution. Illustrated are the research aim, research questions, and institutional analysis that distinguish institutional ethnography from conventional ethnography. Two professional tensions are associated with attempts to fulfill client-centered practice in mental health. One is that of working at cross-purposes with the prevailing hierarchical structure; the other tension is that of being celebrated yet subordinated in the medical and management hierarchies of health services. Although client-centered practice is difficult to do, the authors recommend institutional ethnography as a research approach to generate understanding and transformation of the context and practice of occupational therapy.