A guest blog from Alison Keir, Policy Officer for Scotland at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to mark Occupational Therapy Week.
While celebrating Occupational Therapy Week 2019, I’ve been reflecting on my career journey and why I’m proud to be an occupational therapist. This year’s theme is Small Change, Big Impact. What does this mean to me?
Since qualifying from the Glasgow School of Occupational Therapy (GSOT) in 1991, I’ve enjoyed a wonderful and varied career. I’ve seen green and white uniforms, with British Association of Occupational Therapists and GSOT badges on my collar, move to blue tunics. And now, in my role as Policy Officer for Scotland at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT), no uniform at all. But my identity as an occupational therapist isn’t about what I wear – it’s about what I do.
As experts in occupation and purposeful activity, we have the skills to improve the health and wellbeing of people. We do this by enabling participation in daily life. When we call ourselves occupational therapists, we’re reminding people all the time that ‘occupation’ is what we do.
Small Change, Big Impact
During my career, the small changes that made a big impact have included some very simple things.
Things like providing suitable cutlery so someone can eat their meals without help. Or helping a person with visual impairment enjoy a book during the long hours of their hospital admission, by finding an edition with the right print size, or an audio version.
They’ve involved setting simple goals with people, like managing to sit out of bed for 20 minutes, or eating while sitting in a chair, following an acute illness. A small change for the person that made a big impact on their life.
Creativity and wellbeing
During my studies, I was lucky enough to practice creative tasks like basket weaving, leatherwork and woodwork. I still have my basket, luggage tag and wooden coffee table.
Often such creative tasks are belittled, but for me they’re all about demonstrating and understanding purposeful occupation. Creative tasks enable people to remain active and involved in leisure activities – doing what ‘makes them tick’. We shouldn’t underestimate the positive impact of this on people’s mental health and quality of life.
I now know that an occupational therapist can analyse the skills needed for an activity (what we call ‘activity analysis’) with their eyes shut. Professionally, it’s what we do, what we’re trained in, and what we’re good at. We understand which occupations keep us, and others, healthy – both physically and mentally.
Basic tasks such as making a cup of tea can become really hard if you have a disability. Small things like changing the height of surfaces, the type of kettle, or a handle of the cup can make a big difference. So can using photographs of the steps involved in the task.
Advocating for the profession
As RCOT’s Policy Officer for Scotland, my work is now different from when I worked in a hospital; within the community; or in a hospice. Today I spend time influencing and advocating for what we do as occupational therapists.
Recently I was asked for the first time to give formal evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s Heath and Sports Committee, as part of their Primary Health Enquiry.
For me, this was more than just a small change – it was huge! But I hope I am helping to position occupational therapy as part of the solution in the changing world of health and social care.
Today, I don’t often make a coffee table. But given the chance to walk my dogs or be absorbed in baking a cake or making jam, I’m happy. I know that these tasks (occupations) will help fulfil both my physical and mental health needs. Taking part in these activities reinforces who I am.
Helping others to feel the same way is why I’m proud to be an occupational therapist. The unique skills and services our profession provides mean that more people can live life to its fullest potential.
This article originally appeared on the Royal College of Occupational Therapists website to mark Occupational Therapy Week 2019.