Role Acquisition: Definition, Uses & Categories

Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

This lesson explores the role acquisition frame of reference in occupational therapy. We examine the principles of role acquisition and its seven categories of function and dysfunction.

Role Acquisition

Think about a time in your life when you were learning a new skill, such as learning how to ride a bike. Learning how to ride a bike is a complicated process. It involves motivation, repetition, trial and error, and getting feedback from others. Role acquisition is a frame of reference that addresses how we learn life skills that help us function in our social environment. It is used in occupational therapy to understand how we learn new social roles, how we transition between roles, and how we adapt to changes in our roles. In this lesson, we'll discuss the principles of role acquisition and how they apply to occupational therapy.

A father teaches his son how to ride a bike.
Father and son

Principles of Role Acquisition

The basic principles and assumptions of role acquisition are based on learning theories. The primary goal is to master specific skills that are required to perform important life activities. Role acquisition does not view learning as stage-specific. Instead, learning is a process that starts at our current level of functioning and becomes more advanced as we become more comfortable and skilled. In occupational therapy, this means that progress is more likely to occur when therapists unconditionally accept their clients at their current level of functioning and without judgment.

We learn best when we are actively engaged in the learning process. Just like in our bike riding example, repetition and practice are key components of the learning process. We also learn best when we are consciously aware of what we are learning. To fully master a new skill, we must be aware of the new skill we are learning.

Role acquisition views our behavior as an adaptive response to our physical, social, and cultural environments. The environment provides positive and negative reinforcements that shape our behavior. This principle emphasizes the importance of learning through real-life situations and hands-on experiences.

Categories of Function and Dysfunction

The specific skills that we need to function in our daily lives are determined by our environment. When a skill that is needed to function in the environment cannot be performed independently it is considered dysfunctional. Dysfunction occurs when we are unable to successfully adapt to our environment.

Role acquisition identifies seven categories of function and dysfunction related to occupational performance:

Task skills are general skills that are needed to complete common tasks in everyday life. Functioning in this category requires things like organization and neatness, attention to detail, problem solving, following directions, and using tools.

Interpersonal skills are the people skills that we use every day when we communicate and interact with each other. Functioning in this category requires expressing ideas and feelings, awareness of other people's feelings, cooperation, compromise, and negotiation.

Family interaction relates to skills that are needed to fill family roles, like child, sibling, or parent. Functional family interaction requires communication, empathy, compromise, and conflict resolution.

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are important life tasks that we perform every day, like eating, bathing, and dressing. ADL functioning requires performing these tasks effectively, efficiently, and safely.

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