#OTalk – 8th June 2021 – Occupational Identity

This week’s chat will be hosted by Sarah Fletcher-Shaw @SarahjoOT and Vikki Barry @VikkiBarryOT. Vikki and Sarah both work as Occupational Therapy Lecturers at The University of Huddersfield and have a special interest in occupational identity. Vikki is currently completing her PhD around the occupational identities of people seeking asylum and Sarah is completing her PhD around the occupational identity transitions of new mothers. 

Why should we discuss identity and occupational identity? Identity is seen as a dynamic, developmental process, which shapes and is shaped by community participation and membership (Turner and Tobbell, 2017). Are we, as Occupational Therapists, central to our own exposition, understanding and ultimate knowledge about occupational identity? As occupational therapists we believe that every occupation has physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual dimensions whereby individuals enact occupation within their culture and lifestyle which helps sustain a meaningful occupational identity (Hasselkus, 2011). Despite identity being central and a core belief of our profession it remains an evolving construct within occupational therapy literature and practice. So, what makes occupational identity not just identity? A variety of theoretical perspectives about identity exist and these influence individual perspectives, however Cunningham (2017) argues that taking solely individualistic view of identity is limiting, discussing how inclusively drawing on various identity theory work is important, particularly as occupation is connected to locations, history, culture, communities and economics.


  1. What does occupational identity mean to you?
  2. What has occupational identity meant to individuals/groups you have worked with?
  3. How does occupational identity impact upon the work you do as an Occupational therapist?
  4. What key differences do you feel there are between the terms identity and occupational identity?
  5. How might we develop our understanding of occupational identity further?


Cunningham, M., (2017) Broadening understandings of occupational identity: Illustrations from a research study on homeless adults. In Sakellariou, D and Pollard, N (Eds) Occupational Therapies without Borders: Integrating justice with practice. Elsevier: Edinburgh. pp.118-125.  

Hasselkus, B.R., (2011). The meaning of everyday occupation. 2nd Ed. New Jersey: SLACK. 

Turner, L., & Tobbell, J., (2017). Learner identity and transition; an ethnographic exploration of undergraduate trajectories. Journal of Further and Higher Education, doi:10.1080/0309877X.2017.1311993 


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