Posts Tagged ‘Occupation’

In OT, we talk about occupations as activities that are personally meaningful to an individual. While it would make sense to say that pregnancy is a time that is rich with meaning, I never really would have thought to label it as an occupation.

Until now.

Now that I myself am pregnant, I am finding that it is the most meaningful occupation in which I have ever participated. It’s kind of like being pregnant is an occupation in and of itself, and then there are all sorts of occupations related to being pregnant that also qualify.

I am at the 13-week mark (due August 7th) and have already collected three strips of ultrasound photos, so I decided to buy a baby book — one of the most exciting purchases I’ve ever made! The occupation of “baby booking” will soon occupy some of the time that I should probably spend studying. Oh well.

In addition to getting a baby book in which to store memories, I have acquired a couple of baby-related books. One is the good ol’ What to expect when you’re expecting. The other is a book on natural childbirth (Ina May’s book on childbirth), something that terrifies yet lures me all at the same time. This occupation of reading also occupies some of my free time, and I’m sure will crank up a notch as the big day gets closer.

Being pregnant has also fast become a popular topic of conversation. As a 2nd year OT student in her last semester of school, I am constantly surrounded by awesome girls who have yet to experience this roller coaster of an occupation. Every day they ask me questions: what is it like? how do you feel? what are you craving? how big is the baby now? Those questions and conversations have almost become an occupation in and of themselves! But it’s great, because I love to teach people and I love to share information, and this is such a great and natural way to be able to do that.

I look forward to the adventures that are sure to lie in front of me!



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If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like to write.

I don’t really consider myself to be a brilliant writer.  But I really like it.  Ever since high school, I’ve always enjoyed getting my thoughts on paper and communicating my ideas through words on a page (and now, a screen).

But it wasn’t until recently that I was able to fully understand exactly why I enjoy writing so much.

Early in my first semester of OT school, our mental health professor brought in a guest speaker.  The purpose of his visit (and of the 14 previous years of visits to this classs) was for him to share his life story in the sequence in which an OT would administer the Occupational Performance History Interview-II (OPHI-II).  Our job was to practice making a narrative slope that matched his occupational history, a task that can be done with a client to get a better idea of how occupation has influenced or participated in the ups and downs of his or her life.

As this man shared his story, he talked about how he really liked to write, and he described his need and passion for writing in a way that really resonated with me.  This is what he said:

You know how, when you’re holding a full pot of water, you have to walk forward really slowly so that the water doesn’t spill off the top?  But, then, if you do spill some off the top, it allows you to move forward faster?  Writing for me is like spilling water off the top so I can move forward faster.

That’s exactly how it is for me.  I always knew that, but I just couldn’t articulate it with such clear imagery.  When I am working through thoughts or issues, and then I am able to articulate them using written words, I am then able to proceed with my life and my thoughts.  When I don’t work through my thoughts in writing, they either bottleneck and I can’t focus on anything else until I write about them, or they disappear and I miss out on adding that block to the foundation of discovery I am building toward my personal and professional future.

Sometimes these thoughts are related to my Christian faith.  Sometimes they are related to relationships or discoveries about how the world works.  And sometimes they are related to my education or profession, which is why I wanted to start an OT blog.  I don’t want the things that I am learning to bottleneck or to disappear.  I want to make the most of them, and continue to build on them as time goes on.

And so, I will continue to process my thoughts in writing so that, like water spilling off the top, I can move forward more quickly.

But as an OT student (of course!), this realization about my own need to move forward in life through writing makes me wonder: is this how other people feel about the occupations they enjoy?

If a person really enjoys gardening as a means of enjoyment and dealing with stress, and then she has a stroke and now can’t garden like she used to, will she feel like the effects of the bottleneck?  Like life can’t move on in the same way until she can get back to gardening?  That’s how I feel about writing.

If a person really enjoys playing golf because it’s fun and competitive and it gets him away from the stress of life, and then he sustains a spinal cord injury in a car accident, will he feel like life’s demands are piling up, because he no longer has that outlet in the same way that he used to?  That’s how I feel about writing.

I think this realization about why writing is so important to my own well-being has opened my eyes to just how influential the use of occupation is in everyday life.  What a great time in my education to discover this!

So now I feel like I not only better understand myself, but I can better understand why it is so important for people to engage in or return to occupation as a means of engaging in life.

Perhaps we all have some sort of outlet (or at least we should!) which will allow us to move forward more quickly in our lives.   And unless we use those outlets, and let the water spill off the top, we will feel stuck in one place.

Here’s to letting the water spill off the top.

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I wanted to share this video with you about a man whose experience clearly demonstrates the power of occupation in coping with his disability and learning to thrive in every day life.

This is the story of Tyler Genest, a 20-year-old man who lives in Hawaii and was born with Spina Bifida.  He explains the basics of this congenital spine condition in a short documentary, and you can find more of his story and his e-mail address onYouTube.

A common theme that I have heard amongst guest speakers and videos like this one is, I can do pretty much everything that you can do, I just use wheels to get around instead of walking. Or another one I have picked up on is, I have been given more opportunities in my life sitting down than I ever did when I was walking.

To this end, I find that it is important for occupational therapists to make sure to focus on the strengths of a person with, say, Spina Bifida, rather than his or her limitations.  If there are safety issues, then sure, be aware of the limitations.  But in general, we can do more good by focusing on the skills that a person has rather than on the deficits.  Sure, maybe Tyler doesn’t have the use of his legs, and he has a really steep driveway that takes him several minutes to ascend, and he has to use a special wheelchair lift to get on and off the city bus.  But he is strong-willed and he has a passion for helping teenagers grow through difficult times.

This is where I see the power of occupation.  If an occupation is some activity that carries personal meaning for the person engaging in it, then for Tyler, youth ministry has become a life-changing occupation.  Not only is he good at it, but it is rewarding for him and it brings him great joy.  It tangibly shows him that his life, no matter how difficult it has been, is making a difference in the lives of young people.

One article I’ve read states what may seem obvious to most of us. “Living a meaningful existence or having a purpose in life is associated with well-being,” and, “Participation in valued roles is related to life satisfaction and measures of well-being.” *

Duh, you may think.

But what if Tyler had never realized that he was good at youth ministry?  What if he never had the chance to understand how meaningful his existence was?  What if he didn’t find an occupation in which he felt he was participating in a valued role?  Maybe he would have found something other than youth ministry.  Or maybe he would have attempted suicide again.

So those of us in the field may take the power of occupation for granted.  But when I hear a story like this, and then relate it back to what I’m learning in OT school, I can’t help but stand back and smile at just how meaningful what we do really is.

*These two quotes were taken from Matuska and Christiansen’s article entitled, A Proposed Model of Lifestyle Balance. It can be found in the April 2008 edition of the Journal of Occupational Science, Vol 15(1).

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“Man, through the use of his hands as energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health”(Reilly, 1962).

How does this quote strike you?

Read it again.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

For me, it strikes me as empowering.  Optimistic.  Energizing.

I am learning much about the influence that our participation in occupation can have on our lives, particularly as it relates to our mental and physical health.  In an article entitled, “Health and the Human Spirit for Occupation,”* the concept of occupation is defined as “self-initiated, self-directed activity that is productive for the person (even if the product is fun) and contributes to others.”

Think scrapbooking. Or gardening.

The author then goes on to define health in a unique way.  “Health,” she writes, “is an encompassing, positive, dynamic state of ‘well-beingness,’ reflecting adaptability, a good quality of life, and satisfaction in one’s own activities.”  Her definition is unique because it doesn’t define health strictly as the absence of illness or injury.  Using her definition, health does not exclude people with disabilities.  It focuses more on overall satisfaction, regardless of ability level.

So why does this all matter?  How are occupation and health related?  Who cares?

Well, when considering people who are recovering from spinal cord injury, strong support has been found for a relationship between activity level and survival.  Those who are more active in participating in daily occupations – both in actually doing the occupations and in socializing during their completion – are more likely to survive.  In the group of people referenced in this article, activity level was actually even more important than medical history or emotional state for these people who were recovering from spinal cord injury.  Bottom line: the more engaged they were in daily occupations, the more likely they were to survive their spinal cord injury, regardless of severity.

Pretty amazing, right?

This relationship between health and occupation is continually being discovered and re-discovered, and so here is my question to you.

What occupations do you engage in that are meaningful and satisfying to you?  Have you ever thought about how your involvement in these occupations can actually serve to enhance your overall health and well-being?

Of course, I am not suggesting that people live a destructive or overly sedentary lifestyle (e.g., sit around and eat candy bars all day), and then assume that if they engage in meaningful occupations that it will cover over their plethora of health-related “sins.”  Yes, occupational engagement is important for promoting overall health.  But it is not an excuse to ignore common sense healthy lifestyle practices.

However, if we can remember and trust that there is a powerful relationship between health and occupation, then maybe those of us who are over-worked, over-scheduled, and under-rested will think twice before we dismiss the importance of our involvement in personally meaningful activities.  For the use of our hands, as energized by mind and will, can influence the state of our own health.

*The article referenced, “Health and the Human Spirit for Occupation,”  was written by Elizabeth J. Yerxa and was published in the June 1998 edition of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

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