Blog post

The Power of Occupations

Sian Burgess, Programme Leader for the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy at the University of Derby, discusses the role of an Occupational Therapist and the power of meaningful occupations.

By Sian Burgess - 2 October 2020

Occupational Therapy is a key allied health profession and Occupational therapists work alongside other professionals in health and social care settings. Occupational Therapists work with people of all ages, and with communities of people, to ensure they can do the activities they need or want to be engaged in. It is a challenging and dynamic profession.

When we talk about 'occupations' many people assume Occupational Therapists are there to help people return to work or find paid employment. This can be one focus of the profession but is by no means the only aspect.

When Occupational Therapists talk about 'occupations' they are referring to activities and tasks which everyone does which hold meaning to them. Occupational Therapists believe unless we can undertake these activities then our health and wellbeing will be negatively impacted upon. Over time if you can not do those activities which matter to you then both your physical and mental health will suffer.

The current COVID19 pandemic gives us all some sort of insight into how illness or disability may affect our choices of things we want to do, how we want to do them, when we want to do them and with who. For people recovering from life-changing illness or living with chronic conditions, this is something they must consider every day.

We have seen how restrictions in activities has impacted our sleep patterns and increased our anxiety in a relatively short time. Conversely the pandemic has made people consider what really matters to them and revaluate their priorities and work life balance.

People have rediscovered old hobbies and interests and tried their hand at something new. This is the focus of Occupational Therapy - finding out what matters to our clients and how they want to undertake these activities.

Some activities may be work related, hobbies, leisure or sport and some everyday activities, such as having a shower, cooking a meal or getting dressed independently.

Occupational Therapists will work with their clients to identify what matters most to them and consider ways in which they could undertake these tasks. This may be by changing the way the client completes the task, adapting the environment or activity, or learning new activities to gain the same level of satisfaction and meaning.

Meeting friends and family, or going out in your local community, are things most people take for granted and are integral parts of what keep us all connected with other people and gives us identity. This feeling of belonging to a community or group can be challenging for individuals with conditions such as mental health, learning disability or communication disorders.

Occupational Therapists work with their clients to consider ways to help them establish links with their local community and find ways to help them feel a sense of personal identity and belonging. Occupational Therapists help people to live not just exist. In doing so the profession is client centred and delivers personalised interventions which are occupation focused.

Traditionally Occupational Therapist have worked in health and social care services with clients who live with long-term physical, learning or mental health conditions. However, the profession is rapidly evolving into new areas of work.

Occupational therapists work within prison settings with clients who need to identify positive activities to ensure they return to society as valuable citizens. Occupational therapists may work within peri natal services helping women and their families adapt to the significant life change having a family can bring.

For those communities of people who may be homeless or displaced through migration, human trafficking or war they may require the skills of an Occupational Therapist to enable them to identify new aspects of their life which hold meaning to support them in establishing an identify and maintain health and wellbeing.

For many individuals who are recovering from COVID19, they are finding that they are living with physical and mental health changes. Symptoms of fatigue and anxiety are commonly reported. Occupational therapists are well placed to work with these individuals to assist them re-establishing their roles and meaningful occupations in their families and communities.

Rehabilitation after serious illness or injury has always been an important part of a person's recovery. However, we are becoming more aware that rehabilitation is more than just being able to return home, but that living after a significant life changes requires long-term and personalised support.

Following the pandemic there are large numbers of people who have been unable to access their routine health care or social support who need assistance in reintegrating into life and re-establishing healthy and positive occupations.

Occupational Therapists use their knowledge of the power of meaningful occupations to work with their clients to establish what really matters to them. Rehabilitation is a crucial role for Occupational therapists as we move towards a different way of living following the 2020 pandemic.

For more information on Occupational Therapy visit:

About the author

Sian Burgess
Programme Lead for the BSc (hons) in Occupational Therapy/ Senior Lecturer

Sian is the Assistant Discipline lead and senior lecturer within the subject area of Occupational Therapy. Sian is a senior lecturer within the occupational therapy subject team which delivers both pre-registration occupational therapy programmes and postgraduate master's levels programmes. 

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