Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Health and Society


The literature regarding occupational change indicates that identification with one occupation can present a barrier to making the change to another. Rehabilitation Counsellors are often given the responsibility of assisting individuals to make that change, usually through vocational counselling. The principles which underpin the conduct of vocational counselling commonly do not include consideration of the effect of persistent occupational identity on occupational change. While the concept of occupational identity has been the topic of extensive research for several decades there is no consensus regarding its definition, or how it is different from related concepts and very limited research into how it may influence the outcome of attempted occupational change after injury. Consequently, this study had three aims. Clarification of what occupational identity is; an examination of the experience of occupational identity; and an exploration of its influence on post-injury experiences of occupational change. A mixed methodological approach was adopted consisting of a quantitative analysis of survey data, and qualitative analyses of the experience of occupational identity and post-injury attempts at returning to a more suitable occupation. The survey involved 336 participants who provided demographic details relevant to their working life and an assessment of the level of their occupational identity. Analyses of chi-squared tests indicated that gender, level of educational qualification, employment status and occupational type were influential on the level of occupational identity. As a result of these analyses, recommendations are presented for how occupational identity might be defined and differentiated from related concepts. The qualitative analyses consisted of semi-structured interviews with 11 Truck Drivers who had experience of career disruption due to injury. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis method was used to identify themes connecting the experience of both occupational identity and attempts at occupational change. Several themes relevant to occupational identity were identified, including the involvement of a specific agent in its genesis, and a sense of power associated with its maintenance. Themes relevant to occupational change confirmed that a persistent occupational identity presented a substantial barrier to a successful change to a more suitable occupation. As a result of these analyses, recommendations are made for the enhancement of vocational counselling strategies. The implications of a persistent occupational identity on the negotiation of other biographical disruptions are raised as it has the potential to be prevent changes of occupation occasioned by a range of other life changing events.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.