Occupational Science

Occupational Science

Occupational Science is an academic discipline concerned with the study of human occupation. science otter

It is a new discipline that emerged in the late 1980’s to provide a scientific base for Occupational Therapy practice. It has a close relationship with Occupational Therapy since OT uses evidence from Occupational Science to inform practice, and they are both concerned with occupation and how it affects people. Some examples of areas studied in Occupational Science could be identifying the nature or characteristics of occupations themselves, investigating the processes or outcomes of occupational performance, or attempting to explain how occupation affects people’s health/quality of life/social structures/identity. This can help to explain effects such as occupational deprivation or occupational justice. By studying what the  determinants of health are, it can also give weight to decisions aimed at overcoming occupational injustices (Yerxa 1993).

Like OT, Occupational Science draws on a wide range of other disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, sociology, economics, and evolutionary biology in order to achieve this. Yerxa (2000) illustrated this in her keynote speech reflecting on her career, where she described undertaking ‘detective work’ in order to discover which elements had contributed to Occupational Therapy, and found that ideas from history, political science, disability studies and psychology had also influenced OT in addition to those mentioned above. The information created by occupational science is important to occupational therapy because it informs traditional practice whilst providing evidence for non-traditional practice areas, and has the potential to address practice dilemmas (Wilcock 2001).

OT is focussed on the individual, whereas for Occupational Science a wider view of occupation is necessary to provide a holistic understanding  of what are complicated phenomena. Occupational science can provide the underlying rationale to OT models, for example explaining the ‘identity’ in the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance & Engagement (CMOP-E). Occupational Science has shown that our experiences and motivations for occupations creates our sense of self-identity (for example Wilcock 2006, Sennet 2008 or Hocking 2000).

Occupational science can inform traditional practice as well as provide evidence for non-traditional areas of work (Hocking 2009). Additionally it can be used to study determinants of health,  address potential practice dilemmas and overcome occupational injustices (Wilcock 2001 and Yerxa 1993).

Further benefits of incorporating occupational science research into occupational therapy practice are…Occupational science: Adding value to occupational therapy’ New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy 58(1): 29-35



Hocking, C (2000) Having and using objects in the western world Journal of Occupational Science 7(3), 148-157

Hocking C (2009) ‘The challenge of Occupation: Describing the things people do’ Journal of Occupational Science 16(3): 140-150

Hocking C and Wright-St. Clair V (2011) ‘Occupational science: Adding value to occupational therapy’ New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy 58(1): 29-35

Sennet R (2008) The Craftsman. London: Penguin books

Riley J (2012) Occupational science and occupational therapy: a contemporary relationship. Chapter 14 in Boniface G, Seymour A (eds) Using occupational therapy theory in practice Oxford: Wiley Blackwell

Yerxa EJ (2000) Confessions of an Occupational Therapist Who Became a Detective British Journal of Occupational Therapy May 2000 vol. 63 no. 5 192-199

Yerxa E J (1993) Occupational science: a new source of power for participants in occupational therapy Occupational Science: Australia 1(1) 3-9

Wilcock A (2001) Occupational Science: the key to broadening horizons British Journal of Occupational Therapy 64(8) 412-17

Wilcock A (2006) An Occupational Perspective of Health (2nd edition) Thorofare NJ: Black