Occupational therapists know that culture is relevant to their work, but have failed to understand that while they share a professional foundation, practice cannot assume uniformity, given the cultural uniqueness of different contexts. A discussion of why culture matters forms the basis for appreciating the cultural identity of the profession, which unifies around a belief in the power and positive potential of occupation to transform people’s lives. This is the profession’s ‘essence’. Examples from South Africa are used to show that previous epistemologies must be challenged, and assumptions, values and beliefs adjusted in order to match cultural needs. As people’s ‘being’ is shaped by the culture within which they are situated, the collective cultural practices or ‘doing’ of occupational therapy should be diversified across the globe. Service options that are driven by these perspectives are suggested as ways of giving due recognition to cultural needs and people’s right to occupationally fulfilled lives.
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