019 – Occupation Based Practice with Dr Nicholson

Occupation Ellen Nicholson

Dr. Ellen Nicholson is the Head of Department at the Aukland University of Technology’s, Department of Occupational Science and Therapy and has had a vast and profound influence on my own career being the inspiration for Operation Occupation. We talked about everything from her journey into OT, the professions move back towards Occupation, and the role of Occupational Language in that journey.

I first came across Ellen’s work in ~2012 when she presented at the OT24VX on her PHD research. This really hit me at a time in my career when I was having a professional identity crisis. I was struggling to even work out if i was working as an Occupational Therapist. Ellen was super friendly and easy to connect with. She normalised a lot of the feelings and experiences that I was having at the time and acted as a super intelligent, amazing soundboard.

Using her references, ideas and inspiration i not only changed my own practice but also started a couple projects that aimed to support other clinicians to do the same for themselves.


Check out her work here:


There is evidence of a growing tension within the occupational therapy profession regarding the legitimate knowledge and practice of occupational therapists. While occupation is described by many as the legitimate knowledge base for occupational therapy practice, the history of the profession, and the practice context, often appear to endorse accepted practices that are not overtly aligned with an occupational paradigm. Oppressive, dissatisfying and disempowering social conditions, revealed in the knowledge, power, and discourse which underpin occupational therapy practice, have likely further influenced the meaning and intention of occupational therapy practice with children and families over time.This thesis describes a critical participatory action research project which sought to investigate and affect how occupational therapists working with children translated knowledge to inform and transform their practice. Embedded in shared concerns about the legitimacy of accepted practices with children and families, and using a contemporary occupational therapy theory as a framework, eight occupational therapy co-researchers engaged in two phases of critical action; deconstruction-planning and action-reconstruction. Positioned in between the phases, the resolution of a subjective quest for validation was revealed as a principal catalyst to transformative action. Practice stories and critical dialogue, gathered as project information, was reflectively analysed to progress both the dialogical inquiry and the transformative intent of the research.Implications for practice drawn from the research findings include a suite of action-oriented strategies which will enable practitioners to discover and advance practice transformation within their own practice. These strategies have been consolidated into the VENIA model, which is presented as a practical solution to changing the practice of occupational therapists, and strengthening the political agenda of the occupational therapy profession.

and you can access her full thesis right here:




Keep occupied



One thought on “019 – Occupation Based Practice with Dr Nicholson

  1. Thank you for this inspirational conversation .

    So many twists and turns within the same profession.

    It brings me back to the use of occupational science and the use of our language in practice.

    I particularly liked the story of challenging the surgeon about what intervention would be measured, by bringing it back to what occupations the child could do as opposed to the range of movement in the joint he had worked on.

    I think this will be a podcast to revisit and reflect on.

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