Mission & Philosophy


The fundamental mission of the Occupational Therapy program is consistent with that of the University and the College of Health. The program seeks to transmit, discover and investigate knowledge--both old and new--related to occupation, occupational therapy, occupational science and society in general and to provide the highest quality education to students of occupational therapy, based on contemporary theory, practice and technologies.

The program seeks to provide service to the academic, professional and general communities in which the Occupational Therapy Program is involved and address the needs for occupational therapy in the community, state and region. This will be accomplished by educating entry-level practitioners and other related professionals and providing consultative, advocacy and disability prevention services to the community.


The University of Utah Division of Occupational Therapy’s philosophy looks at two major areas. These areas are occupation and the occupational being; and the professional curriculum and the learning-teaching style.

The philosophy of the Division is based on the idea that to be true to the complexity of human beings one must look at them as occupational beings that exist within the context of environment and time. Occupation is the process as well as the outcome that structures a person’s life—positively or negatively, and at whatever level, gives life purpose and meaning.

The Model

The U of U model for this program is adapted from the University of Southern California (USC) Model of the Human that Influences Occupation (Clark et al, 1991). The USC model is the original occupational science model; it is hierarchical and based on general systems theory (See Figure 1).

Figure 1

The USC model “depicts the human being as an occupational being. Presented as a hierarchically arranged set of concrete and abstract subsystems, the person is seen as an open system in interaction with his or her environment over the entire life span, from birth to old age (Clark et al, 1991, p 302). The output of the system with a feedback mechanism to the input—is occupational behavior or occupation. The input is described in terms of the sociocultural aspects, historical context and environmental challenges.

The U of U model uses the same internal subsystems, input, output and feedback loops. The six internal human subsystems are defined much the same as the USC model. However, in line with the evolving nature of occupational science, the U of U model uses dynamic systems theory as its base. An important difference is that the subsystems are not viewed as hierarchical but as heterarchical.

Some of the subsystems have developmentally occurred before others, or they may have co-developed, or may have been dependent on others for their expression. Depending on the context of an action, one subsystem may play a more dominant role than another may. The process of how these subsystems interact should be viewed as an orchestration of a variety of components that produce actions, responses and reactions. Further, these subsystems interact with the surrounding external environment through the process of time.

Occupational scientists have been able to conceptually add more complexity to the model by using dynamic systems theory (McLaughlin-Gray, Kennedy, Zemke, 1996). Complexity is fundamental to this model. The model is able to handle and explain a tremendous amount of complexity because of the many variables extant at any given moment and, for the very reason that time is one of the variables. Just as with the subsystems, each variable plays a role as well as influences and is influenced by other variables. Further, as dynamic systems evolve over time, there is a tendency to show a propensity for self-organization. Patterns or routines are examples of self-organization.

Another part of self-organization is that of the many degrees of freedom or the myriad of combinations and patterns that might be formed and in addition the irreversibility of the patterns. McLaughlin-Gray, Kennedy and Zemke (1996) point out that a “pattern to be formed is not predetermined. As a pattern is formed...the degrees of freedom are reduced because their role then becomes determined by the emerging pattern (p 312).” It is easy to see that within the human, as an occupational being, there is an overwhelming possibility of behaviors. However at any given moment we may see a particular combination and these combinations can often be generalized across groups of people.

Viewing a human within the framework of this complexity is challenging, but to truly understand occupation and how it influences occupational beings and to remediate when occupation is challenged, ways need to be found that will describe the phenomenon of occupation within the complexity and will lead to solutions for the barriers. To reduce it down to single elements tends to take away the real essence and combined meaning of occupation. These factors weave a delicate dance to the rhythm of life, both internally and externally and are critical to understanding of occupation.

Given this philosophical base of occupation and occupational beings, the program which will educate occupational therapists who have a strong professional identity, a knowledge of occupational theory and the ability to provide effective intervention to occupational barriers must also have a strong learning-teaching philosophy. The Division is based on the idea that learning is active and is valued as a lifelong process. As suggested by AOTA (1997), the learner will be involved in an integrated process that is collaborative and combines academic knowledge with experiential learning and mentoring from faculty and clinicians.

The program’s foundational scaffolding includes occupation, ethical professional behaviors and attitudes, clinical reasoning, the importance of research, the importance of professional identity, being a change agent for the future of occupational therapy and most importantly, the opportunity to begin the process of becoming a life-long learner. Occupational therapy theory and professional skills will be taught to a level of competence through the use of this scaffolding. The product of our curriculum is a creative problem solver who is able to synthesize the complexities of impeded occupation and create opportunities for change or remediation within his or her scope of practice.

Academic Advising

book nowSave

Upcoming Events

View Calendar