Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Of Balance, occupation and OccuBuzz......

As we speed up towards a new academic year here at Salford and prepare for our new and returning students (to both our undergraduate and post graduate programmes), it is interesting that much of what I am reading and considering at the moment is about balance.

We often speak of work/life balance and bemoan the fact that we are not engaging in those things we wish we could - or maybe think we should.  As occupational therapists we are concerned about occupational balance and use categories such as self-care, productivity, and leisure (Creek, 2003) or taxonomies of occupation versus activity to consider how people engage in occupation and identify areas that may be dysfunctional and/or negatively impacting on an individual's  health and wellbeing.

Whalley Hammel (2009) states that the definition of occupation that appears the most useful, least judgmental, and least culturally specific is that provided by McColl et al., (1993); who defined occupation as being anything that people do in their daily lives. 

However, what is occupational balance? I might often think that I am spending far too much time on work and not enough time with my family, often my relationships with my family can be strained due to work load - why am I still on the computer meeting OT4OT colleagues at 10pm? Why am I marking at a weekend? Responding to emails from my smart phone at 6am as the alarm goes off for another day? However, an interesting conversation with colleagues earlier this week made me look at this in a different way. 

I am someone who needs to have order, know that I have met my own and other's expectations of me and met deadlines etc. Once I achieve that I experience well being - a state of overall contentment—or perceived state of harmony—with one's physical/mental health, self-esteem, sense of belonging, personal and economic security, and with one’s opportunities for self-determination, meaningful occupation, maintenance of valued roles, and ability to contribute to others (Hay et al.; Law et al., 1998; Wilcock et al., 1998) cited in Whalley Hammell (2009).

So, if I did not achieve this would my sense of well being be less - how might this impact on my health? 
Wagman et al (2012) discuss issues of occupational balance and identify that as an occupational therapist it is difficult to consider one universal concept of occupational balance. Often we  talk of work/life balance, lifestyle balance or work/rest balance thus illustrating that the notion of balance is both subjective and contextual. They suggest that we need to  consider balance as a mix   - the right amount of occupation and the right variation between occupations (Wagman et al 2012)  and in this way we can all work towards achieving a  wellbeing that works for us.

Therefore the notion of occupational balance as equal parts of work, rest and play may be outdated, rather than be concerned that my work takes far more time than any other area of my life - maybe this is OK for me. What I might need to be considering is - if I am feeling unsettled by my current state- maybe I should be looking at the amount of occupation and the variation between occupations. I'll let you know how I get on ...

In the meantime, Sarah and I are in the process of designing an app "OccuBuzz" that will launch on World OT Day this year  (27th October 2012). This fun app takes the form of lighthearted quiz that is intended to get people talking and thinking about what they do and to highlight the role of occupational therapy for those who are unable to be their own therapist. The 7 questions ask you to identify how you feel about the things you have to/need to/want to do in your weekly routine. Results will then identify if you may be experiencing occupational balance, occupational deprivation or occupational overload and offers tips and links that may help you based on occupational therapy philosophy and principles.

Watch out for the link to the app soon (I will put it here on the 27th) and in the meantime - how do you measure and monitor your own occupational balance??

We are also supporting The World OT Day blog Carnival organised and developed by Linda at Daily Living Skills. Visit here for more details of the blog carnival


  • Creek, J. (2003). Occupational therapy defined as a complex intervention. London: College of Occupational Therapists. 
  • Hay, D., Clague, M., Goldberg, M., Rutman, D., Armitage, A., Wharf, B., et al. (1993). Well-being: A conceptual framework and three literature reviews. Vancouver: Social Planning and Research Council of BC. 
  • Law, M., Steinwender, S., & Leclair, L. (1998). Occupation, health and well-being. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 81-91. 
  • McColl, M. A., Law, M., & Stewart, D. (1993). Theoretical basis of
  • occupational therapy. Thorofare, NJ: Slack.
  • Wagman P, Hakansson C, Bjorklund A (2012) Occupational balance as used in occupational therapy: A concept analysis Scandanavian Journal of OT 19: 322-327
  • Whalley Hammel K (2009) Self-care, productivity, and leisure, or dimensions of occupational experience? Rethinking occupational “categories”   CANADIAN JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY VOLUME 76  NUMBER 2 107-114
  • Wilcock, A. A., van der Arend, H., Darling, K., Scholz, J., Siddall, R., Snigg, C., et al. (1998). An exploratory study of people's perceptions and experiences of wellbeing. British Journal of
  • Occupational Therapy, 61, 75-82.