It’s likely that most occupational therapists are drawn to this career to help others and make a difference. Sometimes, we get stuck in our every day routines and drift from our original motivators. We might patiently help our clients day in and out, yet not have an ounce of tolerance left for the slow driver in front of us on our way home.
Or maybe we find a disconnect between our role at work and our role in our community, and are seeking a way to use our skills more practically. It makes sense then that we want to use our occupational therapy knowledge for more than work and to impact those around us in need.
Luckily, one of the beautiful things about occupational therapy is that it can be applied to nearly every activity in our daily life, and therefore it can be applied to the struggles that arise within them. I’ve gathered a few ways you can help your local community as an OT, from the micro scale to the macro.
Take Notice & Start Now
You may notice someone struggling on the sidewalk or having difficulty reaching a shelf in aisle five at the grocery store. Occupational therapy is all about helping someone function successfully, so if you notice someone is having a hard time, do something to help them out!
One evening, an elderly woman using a walker was preparing to cross the street when she reached out to me. “How much further is 14th street?” she asked. She became exhausted walking home after the bus never showed, she explained to me.
So I walked the next 4 blocks with her, encouraging frequent rest breaks on benches along the way, and taught her the safe way to transfer from the bench to standing at her walker. She was so grateful and gushed to her neighbors about an “angel” that helped her. It felt nice to make such a direct difference in someone’s day when they were distressed and looking for a little support.
Contact your state association and find out about community service projects coming up in your area. You may be able to help such as educating seniors on fall prevention.
One of my occupational therapy fieldworks exposed me to a New York City-based nonprofit, whose mission is to fabricate adaptive equipment for children using readily available materials. I still volunteer at the workshop on occasion, contributing my OT knowledge of positioning, task analysis and ergonomics to the equipment-making process. And I’m not the only OT there. OT graduate students, OTs in the midst of their careers, and OTs who’ve retired from the clinical side all share their expertise at this workshop to benefit children.
Connect with other OTs through meet-up groups, professional development seminars and classes, and on social media. By sharing treatment ideas and what worked for your clients, you can help both therapists and clients. If you’re equipped, take on a mentee or a fieldwork student and share your skills! You’ll likely learn something new in return.
Be an Advocate
Become a member of your local and national OT association then help ensure policies are created that promote occupational therapy and the well being of clients by staying informed on hot topics and key issues in the field. Take action and make sure the appropriate measures are being taken to keep your profession on the right path. Educate others on what you learn, and have conversations with other OTs about your thoughts on these matters.
Changes on this larger scale may feel less direct, but they certainly affect the daily lives of our neighbors and our own.