Theoretical Context

You can view or subscribe to references from our research group on Mendeley (a reference management system which is free, social, browser-based, and Endnote etc-friendly). Visit the research group for references covering the topics below.

You can also view internationally relevant links or subscribe to link updates as we add to our Facebook Page link collection

You learn about the effects and healing from torture & trauma with your occupational lens using this 2006 bibliography and this "Healing the Hurt" manual with 8 chapters that can be individually downloaded.

An online course about the rights of displaced people offered by Human Rights Education Associations orientates practitioners to the issues.

Occupation & health: The foundation of the OT role

Occupational science has uncovered humans as “occupational beings” with an innate need to engage with the world, creating and maintaining health and wellbeing through being healthily “occupied”. Dysfunction in life roles manifests as discord in three domains: the individual, occupation and, environment.

  • individual: health problems and a sense of “dis-ease” such as depression, substance use, lost confidence to pursue goals 
  • occupation: ineffective performance, reduced participation, insufficient standards, maladaptive for environment 
  • environment: poor access & participation in community, services, social or physical environment  

Occupational justice: starting point to develop the OT role

Opportunity to engage in meaningful occupations is a prerequisite to survival, health and wellbeing. As such, it is a human right. Occupational justice seeks to create systems that enable all people and communities to access occupational repertoires necessary for healthy development and community function.

OTs have a role to advocate and intervene wherever occupational injustice compromises individual or community health and wellbeing. OT history is peppered with such pioneers and you can learn more reading the "Political Practice of OT" text (order here). 

Occupational chaos: The context of the OT role with refugees 

The refugee highway is a journey with some well worn paths. The "war-before-the-war", sudden flight, refugee camps, people smugglers, poverty on the streets, detention and finally settlement for a lucky few. New patterns of occupational engagement reflect new roles thrust into the fore and loss of familiar occupations. New physical, social and service environments require different living skills. Refugees must adapt to these new roles and environments despite circumstance stripping strengths such as language and traditional supports. 

Occupational deprivation: OT role with individual and environment

Refugees and asylum seekers experience occupational deprivation explicitly (eg detention centers) and implicitly (eg policies, community attitudes). Over a prolonged period of time, occupational deprivation perpetuates the trauma, dysfunction and deprivation associated with the refugee experience.

Engaging in relevant occupations that support life roles is a powerful vehicle for adapting, remolding identity, building hope, developing a sense of mastery and belonging. OTs assess individual strengths, problems, life roles, occupations and the contextual environment to create specific occupational opportunities that enable function.

Practice Context

This publication by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) orientates practitioners to broach issues of refugee health - and is a useful orientation to practice context along the chapters of a refugee journey. This may helpful OTs working with refugees in a settlment chpater who are unfamiliar with emergency or refugee camp contexts.

It's important to understand the gendered nature of every-day participation at home and in the community. Understand about the impact of family violence in refugee communities here. Primary prevention strategies to reduce violence against refugee women here   

Settlement holds a host of immediate new occupational challenges. These humble, practical occupational challenges are typically what refugees want to engage with here and now. Likewise for settlement workers, employment agencies, schools and the like. Examples below:

  • New roles eg a woman may manage a budget
  • Lost roles eg ambigious loss of parent role with missing children
  • Changed roles eg new skills for how to find somewhere to live
  • Navigating role changes with poor health eg mental distress
  • Navigating role changes with mismatched life skills eg supermarkets and food safety
  • Navigating role changes with environmental barriers eg prior work experience or qualifications are not recognised or valued 

OTs can help equip people to re-negotiate their skills, occupations, life roles which is the humble work of every day life. But this is exactly the space and safety needed to re-negotiate meaning, identity, culture, and suffering to re-claim a full sense of home and citizenship.

Tid Bits of News for OT Practitioners

Three ways to engage - what's your focus?

If you happen to engage refugees in the course of your practice - you might focus on the QUALITY of OT services for the refugees you see, and the refugees in the community who are under-represented in your service.

If you want to see more refugees working with more OTs - you might focus on directly or indirectly supporting innovative projects and pathways for refugee ACCESS to OT.

If you want to help support this field of practice - you might join OOFRAS to focus on LEADING a practice group, interest group, action group, regional group or infact, lead OOFRAS as an organisation.

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