Mindfulness Practice and Occupational Therapy


Although mindfulness practice dates back thousands of years, it’s only over the past few decades that it has begun to filter into mainstream culture.

But how is mindfulness related to occupational therapy?

Today’s Elevate Tuesday reviews a paper that sought to “summarize, describe, and identify gaps in the existing literature on mindfulness in relation to human occupation”.

The Paper
Goodman, V., Wardrope, B., Myers, S., Cohen, S., McCorquodale, L., & Kinsella, E. A. (2018). Mindfulness and human occupation: A scoping review. Scandinavian journal of occupational therapy, 1-14.

The Details
Research question: What is the current state of knowledge regarding mindfulness and human occupation in the occupation-based disciplines of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science?

Format: Scoping review used the Arksey and O’Malley’s 5-step framework.

Searched Keywords: 'Mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’ or ‘yoga’, and ‘occupational therapy’ or ‘occupational science’ or ‘human occupation’ or ‘occupation’.

Studies Included: 929 studies narrowed down to 20 papers, all published between 2006-2016 and with relevance to (or use) of occupation.

Findings (Part I)

About Mindfulness
Mindfulness is, “...the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). 

It may involve some form of meditation (silent or guided), or practices that attend to the self in activity (eg. body scans, or awareness of breath or the self in walking and movement). Although associated with meditation, the practice can be incorporated anywhere, anytime.

Mindfulness is often attributed to Buddhist tradition, but also has roots Hindu and Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) and contemplative philosophies.

Physical and psychological benefits have been well studied and documented in healthcare for issues that include stress, burnout, insomnia, pain, anxiety and depression.

About Mindfulness and Occupation
Mindfulness can be considered a dimension of occupation, and a key part of the phenomenology of “doing, being and becoming”.  It may also be a measure of how “tuned-in” we are to our occupation performance. It can enhance our occupational lives. For example, many traditions encourage mindfulness in mundane activities to improve satisfaction and QOL.

It may be that “occupational mindfulness” is a necessary component of the meaning we derive from occupation.

  • Attention to what and how we “do” occupation is integral to the health benefits of occupation

  • Mindless occupation does not have the same therapeutic effect as mindful occupation

  • By some definitions, mindless occupation isn’t even considered occupation - but tasks and activities

Mindfulness hasn’t yet been fully articulated or integrated into occupation-based practice - but good work such as this review step us in a fascinating direction.

Mindfulness plays an important role in mediating many of the positive effects of occupation, and so it deserves our attention.