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  • Writer's pictureThe MoHO OT

Human Occupation; what lies behind the action?

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Occupational scientists believe that humans have an innate need for occupation and that we need to engage in occupations in order to flourish. These occupations can be a mixture of essential occupations and chosen occupations, which are then commonly classified into one of these areas:


o Productivity e.g. paid employment / volunteering / education

o Play / leisure (hobbies)

o Activities of daily living (selfcare and self-maintenance)


At a very basic level, there are three main functions of these occupations; to provide sustenance, self-care and shelter, to develop skills, social structures and tools in order to stay safe and, to utilise our personal capacities in order to maintain homeostasis and develop further. Therefore, without participation and/or balance amongst the occupations that we need and choose to do to, we become dysfunctional, which ultimately impacts our health and wellbeing. Thus, resulting in either the development of a new condition and/or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition.


The term human occupation has been adopted by occupational therapists and occupational scientists to refer to the doing of occupations within a temporal, physical and sociocultural context. So, what does that exactly mean? Human occupation quite simply means the how, why, when and where we participate in our chosen occupations. By studying the how, why, when and where, we can unpick the barriers to participation and subsequently, enable our clients to adapt and/or change their participation in order to elicit their optimal performance.


To study the how, why, when and where we must look at the body as a heterachy (a flexible arrangement of parts made up of interdependent units, with no clear order or, dominating factor) of different systems. In order to complete our occupations, our body systems must interact and respond with one another to achieve the desired outcome, with each component contributing to the total dynamic. However, how they interact is dependent on the specific situation at the time of the action, meaning, that even with every day tasks, the body adapts to perform it as efficiently as possible. Take for example, picking up a cup of tea, taking it to your lips and sipping it without spilling it, a simple action we do day in day out. However, it is not a simple chain of events, one leading on to the other. It is, instead a conglomerate of all the body systems acting together at one time, each adjusting their input in response to the internal environment (body) and the external environment (the room). This can be demonstrated by how the body adapts its movement if the cup is a different weight to the one you usually use, or the handle a different size or shape etc.


Therefore, when, for what ever reason the heterachy does not work, dysfunction occurs and we must address which aspect(s) of the herterachy had been affected and as OT's we do this by either, remediation of the faulty element, compensation by another element and/or via modification of the environment. Within MOHO, this heterachy is conceptualised into:


o Volition

o Habituation

o Performance Capacity

o Environment


And it is the combination of volition, habituation and performance capacity and how they interrelate that gives us “Human Occupation”.








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