In today's rapidly changing social and economic landscape, new skills and requirements have been identified by employers and academic experts alike, as important foundations for success in both educational and professional spheres. Chief amongst these are: the ability to think critically; a commitment to lifelong learning; an awareness of one's own learning styles; and an understanding of the issues, trends and requirements of one's chosen profession. The field of occupational therapy serves as a good backdrop for illustrating these principles.
The challenge of academic study and university life can be formidable and difficult for many students, therefore the ability to use critical thinking in university plays an integral role in a students' overall success. Academic demands require a higher level of thought processes, quite different from the formalised nature of secondary school thinking. The multi-faceted world of university calls students to become flexible thinkers, possess an ability to deal with ambiguity, identify biases, learn to become sceptical and not jump to obvious conclusions. Within the framework of critical thinking, university students need to learn and be able to examine reality from many angles, and thus visualise new possibilities from pre-existing knowledge and information (Willsen 1993). Students with the ability to use abstract thought in the midst of today's barrage of information - and develop what is termed 'formal operational thought' are more likely to succeed at university, and subsequently in their professional lives (Smith, R 1995).
With the ever increasing globalisation of world markets and resultant industry competitiveness, young people are now expecting to face between four to seven career changes throughout their professional lives. Students face the issue of not knowing whether the careers they have chosen will be available in the long term - unlike past generations where a job was considered for life (Willsen 1993). Critical thinking skills come into play as individuals go through the process of planning their career path, utilising their university studies in striving toward this path, then applying their acquired knowledge and learning capabilities in the wider world. An individual must retain a competitive edge to succeed in life. The ability to think critically has more than ever become a necessary survival tactic for success in university study and in the professional arena.
One of the main reasons why it has become necessary to look in more detail at the role of occupational therapists in mental health care is the changing role of health care professionals in general which has taken place in the past decades and which has led to a re-structuring of the health care industry as a whole. As Thorner (1991) and Lloyd et al (1998) have pointed out, there have been significant changes in the way that health care is structured, in terms of the welfare versus the consumer model, and as a result there is an increasing emphasis on community-based care initiatives and the autonomy of the health care recipient. Consequently, professionals in various fields of mental health care are re-evaluating their roles, both in terms ...