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Occupational science is an interdisciplinary field in the social and behavioral sciences dedicated to the study of humans as "occupational beings". As used here, the term "occupation" refers to the goal-directed activities that characterize daily human life as well as the characteristics and patterns of purposeful activity that occur over lifetimes as these affect health and well-being.
Occupational science evolved as a loosely organized effort by many scholars in different disciplines to understand human time use. It was named and given additional impetus in 1989 by a team of faculty at the University of Southern California led by Elizabeth Yerxa, who had been influenced by the work of graduate students under the supervision of Mary Reilly. Occupational science emerged as a way to expand and support the profession of occupational therapy.
Link between occupational science and occupational therapy
Occupational science was developed by occupational therapists using the principles of occupational therapy and is still a developing discipline. The substrates of occupation (form, function, and meaning) are difficult to observe, and require a multidisciplinary approach. While both occupational therapy and occupational science are rooted in a holistic approach, the interdisciplinary methods for observing form, function, and meaning of occupations are not always holistic. For instance, disciplines such as biomechanics and psychology inform occupational science but, themselves, are not necessarily holistic in nature. Clinical practice can prompt new ideas and spark potential research within the discipline of occupational science.
Occupational science has the capacity to provide insight into the primary modality of occupational therapy (occupation) through researching the restorative dimension of participation in occupation and its therapeutic value. Participation in few occupations or choosing to participate in harmful occupations, such as substance use, can lead to “illness, isolation and despair,” or even death. However, participation in restorative occupations can enhance health. Through participation in restorative occupations, the mental state of individuals can be improved and result in feelings of regeneration. Sleep, an area of occupation, not only regenerates physical and cognitive processes, but also is required for occupational functioning. Participating in other restful occupations, such as reading a book, going for a walk, and exercising, can provide physical, cognitive, and mental restoration.
Occupational science now includes university-based academic programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field. Disciplines within which occupational scientists can be found include architecture, engineering, education, marketing, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, occupational therapy, leisure science, public health, and geography. There are several national, regional and international societies dedicated to promoting the evolution of this specialized area of human science. Academic journals containing content directly relevant to occupational science include the Journal of Occupational Science, OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, The Journal of Leisure Research, Journal of Happiness Studies, Quality of Life Research, Applied Research in Quality of Life, and various occupational therapy journals.
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