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The early use of occupation to support, treat and rehabilitate people in New Zealand is evident in services for returned soldiers after World War 1 ((Hobcroft 1949)). There are glimpses in mental health services during the 1930s too (Skilton 1981). However the first qualified occupational therapist, Margaret Buchanan, arrived in New Zealand in 1941 (Buchanan 1941). Initially employed in the then Auckland Mental Hospital she was rapidly involved not only in the development of occupational therapy services there, but also the development of the first training programmes and advice to government. Initially those trained had previous health or education backgrounds (Skilton 1981). A formal two-year training programm was established by 1940 (NZNJ 1940), and state registration provided for in the Occupational Therapy Act 1949 with the New Zealand Occupational Therapy Registration Board 1950 but since replaced by the Occupational Therapy Board of NZ through the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. From its early services in mental health and returned serviceman settings occupational therapy expanded into general rehabilitation, work with children with disabilities and services for the elderly (Wilson 2004, p. 88).

Educational programmes moved from the health sector to the education sector in 1971 (New Zealand Occupational Therapy Registration Board 1970b 17th July). OT career training is now provided by the Schools of Occupational Therapy at the Auckland University of Technology and Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin. An advanced diploma in occupational therapy was first made available in 1989 (Packer 1991) and bachelor programmes have been available since the 1990s. However, it was not until a review of the Education Act that it was possible for masters degree programmes to be made available, as they now are through both schools . The first New Zealand occupational therapist to complete a PhD in the country in a programme related to occupational therapy was Linda Robertson who completed her PhD in 1994 (NZJOT 1996). The development of distance education technology has enabled large numbers of therapists to participate in post-graduate distance education.

An association for practitioners was formed in 1948 (New Zealand Registered Occupational Therapists Association 1949) and since renamed as the New Zealand Association of Occupational Therapists (Inc) or NZAOT. The NZAOT provides a bi-annual conference, representation at government levels, a journal and a monthly newsletter.

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