With each day that I learn more about occupational therapy, the more proud I am to be on the road to becoming an OT.
This pride really became apparent to me last Friday. Our class had just finished listening to a 90 minute medical lecture, given by the heads of Psychiatry and Occupational Therapy at our university’s hospital. They flew through the neurological implications of conditions such as schizophrenia, major depression, and bipolar disorder. It wasn’t the first time our class has learned the details of those disorders, so we have become fairly well acquainted with them by now. Throughout the lecture, these men addressed ways in which OT’s could intervene with people experiencing mental health disorders such as these. It was a fantastic lecture, but as soon as I walked out of the classroom, I had to shift my thoughts to my upcoming midterms I needed to study for and paper I needed to write, all for my physical disabilities class.
That’s when it hit me.
I just sat through a medical lecture about these intense mental health disorders. Given by the doctor who is the head of the psychiatric unit at University Hospital. And I totally kept up. And now I’m gonna go study for Physical Disabilities. Those things are so different. OT’s can do anything!
And it’s true. No two occupational therapists are really alike. We are so diverse!
While one OT may be working with a premature infant in the NICU, training its reflexes so that it can learn how to use the suck-swallow-breathe pattern that it was supposed to have at birth so that it can begin feeding through its mouth, another OT may be working with an 85-year-old woman who has experienced a decline in her independence due to injury or aging, teaching her how to use some adaptive equipment or how to modify her home environment so that she can regain her independence.
While one OT may be teaching a teenage boy with a spinal cord injury how to navigate in his wheelchair, care for himself independently or participate in things that are important to him, another OT may be helping a homeless man learn what technical and social skills he needs in order to get back into stable housing and a job.
While one OT may be helping a woman who had a stroke, teaching her how to care for herself and participate in activities she enjoys, another OT may be working with someone who is struggling with schizophrenia, offering them strategies for increasing their quality of life despite their difficulties.
While one OT may be playing with a boy with autism, teaching him to interact socially with other children or how to manage his behavior when he gets upset, another OT may be teaching a girl with cerebral palsy how to ride a horse, knowing that horseback riding can help improve her trunk alignment and strength, thus contributing to improvement in her hand skills so that she can do things like feed or dress herself.
And those are just a few examples.
I am so proud to be an OT. We are creative. We are smart. We are powerful. We care about improving people’s quality of life, which means more than just working to improve their physical condition.
What we do matters. We are unique in what we offer and, yet, we are not pigeon-holed by it.
When we say that we help people “live life to the fullest”, we accept the fact that people’s “disabilities” affect more than just their body. Physical and mental disabilities impact every aspect of a person’s life. And we, as occupational therapists, get to look at the person as a whole and say, How we can improve this person’s quality of life? What’s going on in their body, brain, environment, and social life that will impact their everyday living? What do they want to get back to doing that they can’t do now? What’s important to them? How will this disability affect the way they feel about themselves as a person…or how other people feel about them?
And after we ask those questions, we get to work.
I don’t know any other profession that operates like ours.
And that’s why I’m proud to be an occupational therapist.