In New Zealand I often find myself having to explain what Occupational Therapy is. Having worked overseas for longer than I have practiced in NZ this observation and line of inquiry continues to hit me hard every time I am asked about my job – but now is the perfect opportunity for you to understand about our valuable profession.
As an Occupational Therapist, I cannot help but see the importance of occupation during this time of COVID-19 isolation. People, including myself, are finding themselves without any routine, reduced roles, reduced social identity and altered rituals. They are finding themselves stumbling at the first block of Ann Wilcock’s “doing, being, becoming and belonging” theory (1999). Many people are unable to ‘do’. This in turn has limited their capacity to contribute to their own lives, their families, and society. Personally, this time has lead me to reconsider what’s really important in my life – what roles and occupations I value and miss and can’t wait to re-engage with again – a coffee with a friend, walking on the beach, being with my extended family and playing with my friends’ kids again. The absence of these occupations is what a person with an illness or disability experiences… it’s these simple activities that we, when well, often take for granted.
Lack of participation in these activities, in some instances, may lead to a reduced sense of self-worth, self-esteem, purpose and ultimately affect a person’s mental health. If we are unable to do, we are unable to be, and if we cannot be, we cannot become and cannot belong. This is what us Occupational Therapists call, occupational deprivation.
An example of this is through the impact Covid-19 has had on the sporting world. Can you imagine having trained for the Olympics for most of your life only then to see it postponed? The athlete has built their life around this event, every second of every day, carrying out training sessions with the hope of being the best, and then suddenly, the rug is pulled from underneath them.
I myself have striven to own my own business, working tirelessly for years in public and private health care facilities, getting a broad range of business and health experience, to finally realise my dream and purchase a small business 3 months prior to lockdown – I also feel just as if I have had the rug pulled from underneath me. And I’m sure you can equally relate to these examples through your own experience, or of those around you.
Occupational Therapists design interventions to get you back to doing what you enjoy, and being whatever your role is (a mother or father, colleague and friend), belonging to your community and pursuing the opportunity to become whatever it is that your goal may be, and if this means modifying how you engage in these activities in order to get you reengaged in them, then that’s what we do – grade or modify the activity to allow for some level of sense of achievement and participation – sound familiar to the COVID Levels – 1-4?
Some people may end up experiencing a type of isolation following a diagnosis of a cognitive impairment such as concussion, a stroke, a brain injury, a car accident, a fall or fractured limbs. They may find themselves stuck in a rehabilitation facility or at home without the ability to do, be, belong, or become.
We can gain a deeper understanding into what these individuals experience right now that we are going through it ourselves and see how these limitations can affect us. As an Occupational Therapist, my role is to assist you in returning to those activities that provide fulfill and purpose to you.
Another key term in the principle of occupational science which underpins our Occupational Therapy training is occupational balance, and I feel as though we have all achieved a deeper insight into how we are balancing ourselves in this current COVID time. We have been given this precious time to reflect and look at how balanced our lives are. Have we been working too hard or not enough? Have we been spending enough time with our families? What is actually important to us? Is my career everything? Am I watching too much Netflix? Should I exercise more?
A lot of thought-provoking questions can arise at a time like this when we stop and have time to think.
What a lot of us are currently feeling at the moment is a sense of occupational deprivation and we can see an opportunity to establish a new occupational balance. And the good thing is that there is something you can do about it – pick up a new hobby, establish new routines, let go of old unsuccessful ones, focus on what or who is really important to you – and that is Occupational Therapy.
And if it is only one change in your life that you can make and we all make one change together, it will have a huge impact, so don’t ever think, “I’m only one person. What can I do?”
You can do a lot.