“Let’s peel an apple!”: The role of Embodiment in the Practice of Occupational Therapy

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This study explores embodied interaction as epistemological foundation of Occupational Therapy (OT), analyzing how therapists “think” in their profession. Empirical data were gathered through a qualitative research-through-design investigation (Zimmerman and Forlizzi 2014) targeting a digital tool for OT education. Observations of learning activities and two co-design workshops were conducted with teachers and students from bachelor and master programs in Copenhagen and Odense (Denmark), practitioners from Odense University Hospital and the Danish National Union for OT.
The ‘clinical dialogue’ is defined as a central activity in OT (Brandt et al. 2014, Bennet et al 2017) and it can be analyzed as a form of embodied negotiation between therapists and patients, aimed at establishing a personalized therapy. Embodied interaction (Dourish 2010, Imrie 2016) and affordances (Norman 1999, Fredlund et al. 2014) are found to be epistemological concepts in OT, as therapists and patients negotiate possible therapies, exploring together the therapeutic affordances hidden in: bodily movements, simple gestures, and engagement with material artefacts related to work, domestic or free-time activities.
A frequently mentioned activity is peeling an apple, which through the eye of OT acquires meaning on different perspectives: 1. a diagnostic perspective, as the condition of the patient becomes apparent while engaging with the affordances offered by the apple and the tool, the therapists can also guide the patient holding his-her hand in performing the correct movement; 2. a therapeutic perspective as peeling an apple affords for applying a firm grasp and fine movements on the apple and the tool, hence enabling the patients to regain muscular strength; 3. a motivational perspective as patients are often motivated to regain control over their daily activities; 4. an identity perspective as often simple activities like cooking can play a role in defining the identity of the patients.
In conclusion, starting from analyzing the therapeutic dialogue, embodied interaction emerges as a fundamental epistemological concept in OT, defining how therapists think of themselves as practitioners and enabling them to acquire a holistic perspective on their patients.
Publikationsdatojun. 2018
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - jun. 2018
BegivenhedThe 2nd symposium on Embodied Interaction: "Gesture, Touch and Embodied Meaning-Making" - University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Danmark
Varighed: 26. jun. 201827. jun. 2018
Konferencens nummer: 2


KonferenceThe 2nd symposium on Embodied Interaction
LokationUniversity of Southern Denmark


  • embodied interaction
  • learning
  • Occupational Therapy
  • gestures
  • activiy
  • affordance
  • health care