Article written by Julie Hewitt, OTR, for Gogebic Community Mental Health Authority
When tasked with writing an article on Occupational Therapy at Community Mental Health Authority I initially thought “piece of cake-no problem” however as I pondered what it means to practice OT in this setting I realized that my profession is not always easy to define.
In simplest terms, Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants support people across the lifespan engage in the activities they want and need to do through therapeutic use of everyday occupations. In essence Occupational Therapy promotes skills for the “job of life”.
For 25 years this August I have had the privilege to provide support to children and adults with disabilities here at CMHA. My practice here is guided by a few basic principles including viewing each individual holistically – that of mind/ body/spirit, building on an individual’s strengths, acknowledging the importance of a person’s right to make choices and the need to promote meaning and purpose in daily living. Sometimes it is as simple and yet abstract as discovering just what it is that makes a “person tick”.
I have long since discovered the intricacy of the mind/body/spirit connection. When out of balance it can be helpful to find supports that restore function. At times this might mean adapting the environment, recommending adaptive equipment for optimal independence, assisting a person in developing meaningful relationships and promoting self-discovery of values and beliefs.
When applying Occupational Therapy intervention for persons with disabilities at CMHA it is critical to discover an individual’s strengths rather than focusing on deficits. Without exception I have observed that every individual I have encountered here has the ability to make progress toward their goals. At times this goal attainment is taken in small steps and other times giant leaps forward. I am fortunate here at CMHA as I have known some of the adults I provide support to for more than two decades. This aspect allows me to experience many celebrations of success!
An important dimension as an OT is the idea of supporting a person to make their own choices. At CMHA my focus is to empower the individual to set goals and priorities respecting the right of the individual to self determination. This philosophy embraces the idea that people with disabilities should have the freedom to live the life they choose as well as receive the necessary support to achieve those dreams and goals.
Lastly, OT practice here at CMHA advocates for individuals to engage in meaningful and purposeful activities of daily life. For children with disabilities this may mean recommending adaptive equipment such as a special utensil that enables self-feeding in the school cafeteria or at home at the kitchen table. Perhaps OT provides a means of adapting a work-site supporting an individual with limitations in coordination the ability to use power equipment with one hand. Maybe the support includes equipping a parent with the ability to bathe their child with multiple disabilities using a specialized bath chair. The point is support for engagement in activities of daily living looks very different for each individual. At the heart of this principal however is the idea that as individuals we have an innate longing for and need of finding and maintaining purpose for our life and connecting with others in true community fashion. This sense of sharing happens within inclusive community places forging relationships as citizens, neighbors, classmates, co-workers and friends. This is the very core of Occupational Therapy practice at CMHA.