For the past 5 months, I have been doing a 3-day-a-week internship at a fantastic pediatric therapy clinic in Pasadena as I finish up my last year of OT school. This clinic has around 30 amazing therapists on staff — occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists. I have had the opportunity to observe a multitude of clinicians, from newbies to veterans, as they demonstrate to me what it means to be a good pediatric therapist. I have watched training videos, read articles, and written papers so that, someday, I can become a good pediatric OT too.
The only problem is that, in the process of learning from all these other therapists’ styles, I have forgotten what my style is. I have realized that I’ve tried so hard to take on their identity that I have lost my own when it comes to interacting therapeutically with the kids.
I suppose this is part of the learning curve. You start with a natural talent and intuition for working with kids, so you’re drawn to a field that will educate you on how to be even better with them. Then, in the process of learning, you are removed from your kid-filled environment (i.e., work or volunteer positions) as you saturate your brain with new information about theories, techniques, and research related to working with kids. As you drift away from your passion, you lose a little bit of that natural pizazz that you once possessed when you’re around kids because, well, you’ve grown a little rusty. Then, as you are reintroduced to the kid-filled environment, you are no longer that fun kid magnet that you once were. You are a person who loves kids but is weighed down and — sometimes — paralyzed by a truckload of new knowledge that you must now integrate into your interactions with those little people who were never that intimidating to you but, now, seem to be much more difficult to engage and motivate.
This is what happened to me.
About 3 weeks ago, I realized that I just wasn’t fun anymore. I used to be (and have) lots and lots of fun when I was around kids, even when it was all day long. But now? Now that I have all this “education” to use as part of my practice? Now that there is more of a “right” and a “wrong” to what I choose to do in terms of helping them reach their goals? Well, I think I became a bit of a robot, processing frames of reference and creating data sheets of approved treatment strategies for different kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things. But somewhere along the way, I stopped being fun. I forgot that my clients are kids who like to play, and I treated them like clients. I mean, I was maybe a little fun. But not that much.
So, I’ve decided that I’m going to be fun. And I’m going to have fun. Because how can therapy be play-based if you’re not actually playing?
Ever since I resolved to be more fun (since about 1 1/2 weeks ago), things have been so much better at fieldwork. Yeah, I still have to use my clinical reasoning and make sure that I’m having fun with the kids in a way that will bring them closer to meeting their official goals. But it’s way more fun for me and for the kids, and I can tell just by looking at their smiles and paying attention to the buzz that I feel when we’re finished with our sessions.
I’m so glad I realized this now, before I finished my fieldwork and left feeling like I wasn’t as good a pediatric OT as I once thought I could be. So every day as I drive to fieldwork, I am happy to remind myself of my new motto:
I’m going to be fun today.