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April is Occupational Therapy Month

By Rose Wild, OTR/L
CMC’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “I suppose if I were asked what is the best thing one could expect in life, I would say, ‘The privilege of being useful.’” With an outlook like that, had she not been a first lady, she would have made a great occupational therapist!

The essence of this statement reflects the ultimate goal and purpose behind all occupational therapy services – to assist individuals to achieve “the privilege of being useful,” either to themselves, or others. Regardless of where, with whom or how occupational therapists apply their trade, you can be assured that each and every one of them aspires to this same goal for their patients and clients.

Each year in April, occupational therapists across the nation celebrate National Occupational Therapy Month. Their goal during this time is to build awareness and understanding of occupational therapy as a profession.

Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who offer a broad range of services to a wide variety of individuals in a wide variety of settings. OTs work with all age groups ranging from premature infants to the very old. I once worked with a woman who was 105 and I was overjoyed to ultimately be able to watch her dance on her birthday.

OTs work in hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, school systems, home care agencies, mental health centers, and a number of other settings. They work with individuals who are injured, ill or impaired, as well as with those who are well. Wellness services may include injury prevention programs in the workplace, stress management, etc.

One of the challenges of being an occupational therapist is explaining the title, which often lends itself to misinterpretation. The most common misinterpretation is that it helps people find jobs. Though we do work with individuals on work related issues, we do not help them find jobs. This misunderstanding comes from the way occupational therapists define the term “occupation.” Their definition embraces a much broader application of the term. They define “occupation” as the many ways in which an individual’s body and mind are “occupied” in the course of interacting with the world around them.

Consider how your own body and mind are being “occupied” at this very moment. Your body may be sitting or standing, holding this paper steadily in your hand so that your eyes can read what’s been printed on the page. Your mind is concentrating, trying to selectively block out the distracting stimuli around you so you can comprehend the information and form an opinion about it. Both body and mind are working together in such absolute harmony that this task will go essentially unnoticed and unregistered in your memory of the day’s events. You are not likely to go home tonight and exclaim to a loved one that you were able to hold a piece of paper in your hand, and then read and understand what was written on it. For most of us, that kind of activity thankfully goes without thought. We, quite simply, take it for granted. But, I assure you that there are many people for whom this seemingly simple task would indeed be a memorable one – a quadriplegic, a stroke victim, someone with a traumatic head injury, or a traumatic injury to an arm or hand, someone with arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Sclerosis, or mental illness, just to name a few. As you can see, even some of the simplest things in life can become privileges when the ability of being useful to yourself or others is compromised by illness or injury.

Catholic Medical Center employs many occupational therapists in a myriad of roles throughout the organization: acute care, the Rehabilitation Medicine Unit, and Outpatient Rehabilitation Services. If you happen to see one of them during the month of April, please take a minute to “occupy” a bit of their time by wishing them a happy National Occupational Therapy month.

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