Saturday 20 December 2014

Meaningful Occupations...

Throughout the first term at university our class has been grappling with the underpinning theory of occupational therapy, which I have at times found very challenging to get my head around. A lot of this has slowly but surely started fitting into place as the term went on and hopefully as we go out on placement after the Christmas break, it will start to make even more sense. One of the main themes we began discussing in-depth from week one is occupation (which is clearly important in an occupational therapy course). One of the concepts I struggled with getting my head around was the difference between occupations and activities and what the difference means to the engagement of a client.

Pierce (2001) states activity is an idea held be a persons mind in a shared language, It is culturally defined but not experienced by a specific person. Whereas occupation is a specific individuals personally constructed experience that can't be repeated, and which has meaning to an individual. This being the case anything and everything a person does or is involved in is an occupation to them.

In OT we look at occupations in three categories: self-care, productivity and leisure, which help individuals interact and participate in society, although i am aware that it isn't allows easy to fit occupations into one of these categories, but such occupations are still meaningful to the patient.

To help me understand this more I have been thinking a lot about meaningful occupations and how in participating in them can enhance the well being of the individual.

"Occupations are meaningful to people when they fulfil a goal or purpose that is personally or culturally important " (CAOT, 2002) 

WFOT (2004) states enabling meaningful and purposeful occupations helps promote health and well being. And as OT's that's what we aim to do in our profession. 

This week as I worked a shift as an OTA I felt I was able to actually see the importance meaningful occupations can have to patients. I was lucky to be part of some carol singing for the patients on the wards that we cover in the hospital... this doesn't seem like a big thing does it? But as we sang some Christmas carols in the middle of the wards... I got to see the reaction of patients who had come out of their rooms to join in and feel part of the experience. One man in particular who had been brought along from one of the other wards; got really emotional when we finished on the ward, asking for one of his favourite carols (which we attempted even though we were lacking the words). He commented on the way back to his ward that it was something he really enjoyed and hadn't been able to do because he was in hospital.

On further discussion with said OT,  I heard a little more of his story and it became even more clear that this occupation was incredibly important to him as he had been a minister when he was younger so the carols had a faith/spiritual aspect to him as an occupational being. He has chosen to keep this information to himself until after this encounter. I feel as a student OT it helps me to understand the importance of meaningful occupations and their effect not only on the individuals well being and participation in society but also the impact it can have on how well be get to know our patients, in turn helping how we work with them. 

At this time of year when most of us have one Christmas event or another that we are going to be it church services, nativities or socialising with friends and family, we can so often forget that patients in hospital aren't able to do these activities which they would do at home due to the limitations being in hospital imposes on them. Surely as OTs our role is to help enable our patients to participate in meaningful occupations to them, be that at home or in a hospital setting.

This particular activity which took around 40 mins of our day will have helped numerous patients on the ward engage in meaningful occupations even if as staff we don't know to what extent (since the meeting of the phrase meaningful occupations is individual to each person involved in the occupations). I think it is also a great example of patient centred care, that was able to boost the moral and emotional well being of patients who were recovering from surgery.


  • Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (2002). Enabling occupation. An occupational therapy perspective (Rev. ed.). Ottawa, ON: CAOT Publications ACE.
  • College of Occupational Therapists (2006b) Recovering ordinary lives: the strategy for occupational therapy in mental health services, literature review. (Core.) London: COT. 
  • Pierce, D.E. (2001) Untangling occupation and activity. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 55, 138 – 146.
  • World Federation of Occupational Therapists (2004) Definition of occupational therapy. Available at: final%20definitionCM20042.pdf Accessed on 23.12.14


  1. Hi Kelly! I'm a first year OT student in the US, and I love reading about your OT school experience! This post about occupations is particularly insightful, and it's definitely the moments like the one you described with the older man and the Christmas carol that made me want to do OT in the first place. We are going to be the people who see the "little things" that matter to people so, SO much and use these little things to make a huge difference in their lives!

    Best of luck with your continued school endeavors, and if you want to check out my blog I'm over at!

    1. Hi Lauren,

      Apologies for the delay, somehow missed your comment. Thanks for the feedback. It's good to hear other OT Students views to help development of thoughts and ideas. I have had a look at your blog too - It looks really good!



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