blogging, Evidence Based Parenting, mindful parenting, occupational therapy, Parenting, Personal

What do Occupational Therapists Actually DO? (and why I blog…)

Things have been a bit quiet over here in blog-land… we had a family holiday and I took a little break from all things social media related. There’s a few posts that I’m working on but one thing that’s been mulling over in my mind is about the reason why I started to blog. And also, it occurred to me that some of you reading may not even know what occupational therapy is – what on earth do OTs do? For me, these two topics blend together, so here’s a wee write up about them.

Occupational therapy can be a tricky profession to explain. This is because it’s so diverse – you’ll find OTs working in hospitals, schools, mental health, physical health, private practice, adventure therapy, hospices, and more.

At the core of it, occupational therapists are all about helping people do the activities that enable them to feel fulfilled and be the best they can be. 

Righto, so that’s as clear as mud I know… but OTs working in different settings do different things according to the needs of the clients they work with. So here are a few examples:

  • With an adult who’s had an accident or stroke an OT will help them re-learn how to get dressed independently, and/or set up their house with equipment to enable them to shower safely
  • With a child who’s struggling at school an OT will assess them and the environment to identify why the child is having trouble learning, and help plan strategies to help that child succeed.
  • Or an OT working in mental health might work alongside people to identify activities that help the person feel like they can cope a little bit better with their recovery journey – like being able to confidently go back to polytech, or take the bus, or plan their meals for the week (this is what I used to to before having kids!)

See? It’s really broad huh! And those three short examples aren’t even covering depth or breadth of our profession. Our degrees consist of papers covering anatomy and physiology, physical and mental health conditions, anthropology, psychology, sensory integration, ergonomics, a whole raft of models and theories related to humans and occupational engagement, lots of fieldwork placement (one of which I met my future husband on!), and more topics that I can’t even explain in this blog post.

It’s a really unique profession and one that I’m intensely proud to be a part of.

However, as I have journeyed through having children over the last 5 years, I found it hard to let go of the idea that I needed to return to paid employment to “be” an OT. I was finding it difficult to retain my identity as an occupational therapist. 

At two different times I quite seriously looked at job applications, even going through with interviews. But nothing worked out, and when I sat down and figured it out, I couldn’t actually fully commit myself to working 20 hours anyway. With my husband running not just one, but TWO small businesses, me going back to paid employment would have been a huge stressor on our family that we just didn’t need. (I know I’m “lucky” to have that choice by the way). 

So what’s an OT Mum to do? I am inherently an OT – my training is just a part of who I am now, and I always “think like an OT”. I’d always been aware that there were a lot of correlations between what I was doing as a SAHM and my OT training, for example:

  • promoting independence: well hello… my role as a mother is to help my children grow into independent human beings! As with OTs – they work with people to help them be as independent as possible.
  • client/child centeredness: the parenting approaches that I try to practice (RIEPlaycentre philosophy) value treating young children and their views as real and respected, and following their interests. Occupational therapy is a holistic profession which has client centred values and uses people’s interests to promote wellness.
  • providing a “just right challenge”: in the OT world this phrase describes a treatment which is graded to the correct level of difficulty for a client – enough that they are challenged, yet not too hard that they will fail. I would find myself applying this at home a lot, in regards to my children’s learning and everyday life.
  • environmental analysis: OTs are trained to assess the environment to reduce barriers that challenge people’s engagement in activities. At home I do this a lot to provide an optimum environment for the kids (see my post about toy rotation for an example of this).
  • activity analysis: OTs are also trained in breaking down the different components of an activity, to isolate the particular part the client wants/needs to work on. This is what you see me doing when describing an activity, e.g. in this post here about how we used a roll of newsprint.

So my mind was constantly reflecting on all of the things listed above, and more. As I said, I just inherently think like an OT! If I was in practice as an occupational therapist, I would be required to register each year with the governing board, and provide evidence of my competence. But seeing as I’m not, how did I record the things I’ve been doing during this “extended maternity break”?

Enter blogging. 

I’d toyed with the idea of blogging for a few years. Reluctant to take the plunge (for reasons of cyber security and knowing my own personal weakness for getting caught up in what others think of me), I’d put it off.

But in discussing the idea with others, I was encouraged to take the leap. I came to realise that I could just make it my own, and I set up some safeguards around myself to protect myself and my family from cyber exposure and the negative effect it could have on us.

And it’s been really good for me. It helps me to be more intentional with my parenting, and it’s awesome to be able to share my knowledge with those around me. I’m happy to admit that I don’t know everything… no one is a “perfect parent”! I’m always constantly learning – we are all on a learning journey as parents, me included. But I’m happy to share what I do know and what I have learnt over the last five years. Even if no-one reads it! It’s place where I can record things for my own career’s sake.

Where possible, I will always try to provide evidence based information on my blog. I am aware that there’s an absolute overload of information out there for parents these days. Where possible, if I’m writing about something to do with child development, I will provide references. Or I will state if it’s not evidence based – if it’s anecdotal coming from my experience as a Mum. I feel a certain level of responsibility as a health professional to disclose this. The integrity of the profession is something I take seriously.  If any of my OT friends read anything I blog about and think it’s a bit off the mark, then please, let me know! This is something I feel quite strongly about.

So to wrap up:

  1. Occupational therapists’ roles are diverse, but all stem from the same viewpoint. I hope you’re a bit more knowledgeable about our roles now, if that’s what you came to read for.
  2. I blog to record my journey as an OT Mum, the way I use that degree of mine in everyday parenting.
  3. I hope I can help other parents along the way by sharing my knowledge, which I will aim to have referenced and evidence based if it comes from an OT perspective.

Anyway, that’s a very long read! Thanks for journeying with me.

🙂 Rach.

I was prompted to write this post having read this excellent post from fromtheharp.co.uk titled “Why we need to talk about occupational science as well as occupational therapy”. Thank you Alice!

4 thoughts on “What do Occupational Therapists Actually DO? (and why I blog…)”

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