headshot of Judith Friedland and the cover of her book: There Was A Time For Everything

Judith Friedland reflects on her life and career in new memoir

Judith Friedland has worn many hats throughout her life. After earning her diploma in physical and occupational therapy from the University of Toronto in 1960, she went on to work as an occupational therapist, marry and become a mother, earn a PhD, and teach in the department of occupational therapy at U of T, moving through the ranks from lecturer up to professor and department chair.

In her recently published memoir, There Was a Time for Everything, Friedland reflects on her life and career, and how she has spent her time post-retirement. She spoke with writer Rachel LeBeau about the book and some of its themes, and the process of writing and editing.  

What inspired you to write There Was a Time for Everything? 

After I published my book on the early history of occupational therapy in Canada (Restoring the Spirit), I realized that I had more to say and that writing a book was doable. I thought that my life was a bit unusual and thought it could be good to write a memoir. The editor of that first book agreed and suggested I start by writing some vignettes about what I had found to be significant in my life. I started writing in 2014 and then the book took on a life of its own. I got into all these themes – my mother dying when I was very young and the issue of feeling “other” from that point on, being Jewish in non-Jewish schools and work communities, and my education and work in a little-known profession. But there was also a theme that was common to many women of my generation. After marrying young and supporting my husband in his academic career and enjoying motherhood, I soon wondered, “Where am I going to be after all this?” That story seems to resonate with many women but is one that we never read about. We know about women who’ve done amazing things, but we don’t know about ordinary women and all the things that we do in our lives. So, I thought my story was worth telling. 

In your memoir, you write about having it all – what does “having it all” mean to you? 

In my view, the part that follows “having it all” is “just not all at once.” Anyone trying to have it all has to give up something. I was lucky in the way my life unfolded. I really thoroughly enjoyed being a wife and mother, building a home and all that went with it. I would not have given that up for a minute. But once my three children were all in school, I was able to go back to work part-time and back to school part-time, and, after about five years of clinical work, start my academic career. It all just seemed to work out so that at the end of the day, it seems to me that I’ve had it all.  

What did you learn about yourself as you went through the process of reflecting on your life to write this memoir? 

I think I learned more about myself as I was editing than when I was writing. In those later stages of editing, I had to keep asking myself, “Is this an important part of my story, does it add to what I want to say, is it necessary?” For example, in describing my time in high school, I had initially named a teacher and at the end, I took his name out. It wasn’t necessary to name him, and it could be hurtful. That was an interesting exercise. I also thought some of the stories I wanted to tell weren’t the most flattering about me, either, but I thought I should share them anyways because they are real life, so I left them in. And I wrote about getting knocked down and getting back up and that made me realize that I knew how to persevere. So that was a good thing I learned about myself. 

How do you think your career as an occupational therapist has shaped your life? 

Most of my practice, my teaching and my research have been within the mental health and psychosocial field, and I carry a lot of that around with me. The other day I went for coffee with a friend who had just had a fracture from a fall. The fact that we were out doing something social was good for her because she can’t go out by herself right now and I know how important it is to her recovery to have social support and not feel isolated. Adjusting to whatever life has in store is something I guess I picked up early on and I think it has stayed with me, no matter what I’ve done in my life and career. 

The other thing I learned, especially working in mental health, is the importance of interpersonal relationships. You don’t really get anywhere in health care without having a good relationship with the person you’re trying to help. That mindset has always stayed with me in my role as an administrator when I was the chair of my department, and in my interactions with family. 

What advice do you have for young women entering the workforce, especially health care, today? 

My advice is to try to find a job that you think will engage you; something where you can learn and grow. If it’s in health care, you need to go in with an open mind and try to understand the system – but when you do see what you perceive as unjust, do what you can to change it. Throughout my career, I have seen the undervaluing of women and their work and it’s something that needs to be challenged.  That has been true whether I was in health care or academia. There have been salary inequities, promotion inequities, funding inequities, and so on. Health professions, in general, are amazing professions – they’re stimulating and you learn something new every day. You are also signing on to help make change – not only in the world of the patients you are working with but also in the larger society. 

I would encourage women not to worry too much about taking on multiple roles or changing roles. You can get a lot of satisfaction from experiencing different things in life – whether that’s pursuing a career, continuing in school, being a wife and mother – these can all lead to fulfillment. It’s ok to do different things. You don’t need to take a linear approach to life. 

How has occupational therapy changed over your career, and what trends do you see emerging in the future? 

Occupational therapy has changed in some ways – and not at all in others. Our roots became firmly established during World War I and are now stronger than ever. We still focus on the centrality of occupation, on what people need to do and want to do in their lives to bring or maintain meaning. We still work with patients to help them find ways to cope and manage after illness, injury, or disability. Medicine and health care have changed throughout my career in so many wonderful ways, especially in acute care, but at the same time, I think we’ve lost some of the broader picture and don’t appreciate the importance of helping people adjust to their altered circumstances and prevent further health issues. I like to think that the health care system will soon understand the essential roles played by various members of the health care team, including occupational therapists, in facilitating that adjustment. 

There is a lot of great progress being made within occupational therapy. I’m particularly proud of my profession and how it is taking on broader social issues, for example, how our occupational lens is helping to address homelessness or mental health in the workplace. Occupational therapy students are learning more about health inequities and how our work contributes to improving lives of vulnerable populations.   

Is there anything else you want readers to know about your book? 

I want them to know that the content will be of interest not only to occupational therapists but to a wide variety of readers. Some will enjoy the historical look at life in Toronto in the 1940s and 50s and what it was like for me growing up in that time. Others may be interested in my years at the university as a student and faculty member, or my stories of married life. I think many will be interested in the gender issues at play and the feminist lens I have used in describing my life. I’ve had feedback on the book from women old and young who seem to relate to my story, and also some from husbands who admit they didn’t realize the impact of the imbalance in their relationships. There’s a lot about aging and so-called retirement and travel and gardening, and, of course, family.   

You can find Judith’s book, There Was a Time for Everything: A Memoir, through the University of Toronto Press and in bookstores and libraries.