Eating Disorders, Mental Health, Occupational Therapy

The Hidden Depths of Occupational Therapy in Eating Disorders – LSBU Student Conference

Following on from our presentation at the College of Occupational Therapists Eastern Region ‘Dark Side of Occupational Therapy’ study day, Mary Cowan and I met today to prepare our presentation for the London South Bank University student conference. The theme of the conference is ‘The Power of Occupation: Maintaining Professional Identity in the Face of Change‘ and it will take place at the university on Friday 3rd February 2017. We are very excited about this presentation, as it is on a topic very close to our hearts – occupation focused practice with people with eating disorders. As always, we will be using  metaphor in our presentation. This time, it will be the metaphor of an ice diver.

Click here to download a PDF of the slides

Click here to read tweets from the day


Image from

‘Eating Disorders and Occupational Therapy: the Hidden Depths’

The Step Up to Recovery programme (South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) is an occupational therapy-led intensive day service for people with long-standing eating disorders. The programme seeks to understand individuals’ subjective experience of their eating disorder and its impact on their everyday life and work with individuals towards their goals.

The service is underpinned by the assumption that “occupation is as necessary to life as food and drink” (Dunton, cited in Mandel et al., 1999, pg. 12) and that it has the power to transform lives. This presentation will explore the impact that eating disorders can have on individuals’ occupational lives, for example creating new occupations, or infusing existing occupations with illness-derived meaning (Elliot, 2012). This will include a discussion of the concept of the dark side of occupation (Twinley, 2013).

Delegates will gain an understanding of some of the challenges in remaining occupation-focused in practice, and consider foundations that enable occupational therapists to stand firm amidst constant change (Molineux, 2011).

Learning Outcomes

* Understand the power of occupation in eating disorders and its impact on health and wellbeing

* Understand the value of exploring the dark side of occupation in eating disorders

* Understand the challenges to remaining occupation-focused in practice and identify strategies to ‘stand firm’


Elliot, M.L. (2012) ‘Figured World of Eating Disorders: Occupations of Illness’, Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 79(1), pp. 15-22. DOI: 10.2182/cjot.2012.79.1.3

Godfrey, N. (unpublished) ‘The Occupational Impact of Anorexia Nervosa: Altered Occupational Meaning, Motivation and Engagement’, MSc Dissertation

Lock, L. and Pepin, G. (2011) ‘Eating Disorders’ in Brown, C. and Stoffel, V. (eds) Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: a Vision for Participation. Philadelphia: FA Davis Co. pp. 123-142

Mandel, D.R., Jackson, J.M., Zemke, R., Nelson, L., Clark, F.A. (1999) Lifestyle Redesign: Implementing the Well Elderly Program. AOTA Press: Maryland

Molineux, M. (2011) ‘Standing Firm on Shifting Sands’, New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58(1), pp. 21-28

Cowan, M. and Sorlie, C. (2016) ‘Exploring the Dark Side of Occupation’ presentation at College of Occupational Therapists Eastern Region ‘Dark Side of Occupational Therapy’ study day, 30th September 2016. Slides available at this link

Turner, A. and Alsop, A. (2015) ‘Unique Core Skills: Exploring Occupational Therapists’ Hidden Assets‘, British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 78(12), pp. 739-749. DOI: 10.1177/0308022615601443

Twinley, R. (2013) ‘The Dark Side of Occupation: a Concept for Consideration’, Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 60(4), pp. 301-303. DOI: 10.1111/1440-1630.12026

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