Occupational therapists, like other health care professionals, must balance their application of treatment techniques with an understanding of their patients’ life experiences. This paper reviews the literature from interpretive and medical sociology regarding the interplay between professional power and the achievement of an understanding of another person. It analyzes how an occupational therapist, during a single treatment session, enters into her patient’s life-world and simultaneously controls and manages the treatment process. The concepts of knowledge schemata (the expectations and beliefs people bring to a situation) and footings (the shifts in alignment, or focus, that occur during interaction) are central to this analysis. The process of achieving a balance between professional power and an understanding of the patient’s experience may be fostered in education and in clinical supervision through increased emphasis on the importance of understanding the values and beliefs of patients and on the development and refinement of interactive skills.

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