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Am J Occup Ther. 1999 Nov-Dec;53(6):547-58.

The 1999 Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture. Defining lives: occupation as identity: an essay on competence, coherence, and the creation of meaning.

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  • 1School of Allied Health Sciences, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston 77555-1028, USA.


This article presents a view of occupation as the principal means through which people develop and express their personal identities. Based on a review of theory and research, it proposes that identity is instrumental to social life because it provides a context for deriving meaning from daily experiences and interpreting lives over time. The article proposes that identity also provides a framework for goal-setting and motivation. It is asserted that competence in the performance of tasks and occupations contributes to identity-shaping and that the realization of an acceptable identity contributes to coherence and well-being. Within this framework, it is postulated that performance limitations and disfigurement that sometimes result from illness or injury have identity implications that should be recognized by occupational therapy practitioners. By virtue of their expertise in daily living skills, occupational therapy practitioners are well positioned to help address the identity challenges of those whom they serve. In so doing, they make an important contribution to meaning and well-being.

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