Transitioning from an Occupational Therapy student to a therapist is a big undertaking. Schooling provides you with the rudimentary skills needed to be a therapist, but treatment in the clinic is far different from simulations during coursework.
Many students and professors have difficulty determining where the gap in learning is, and why so many new graduates struggle.
I believe the disparity lies in creativity and what new therapists perceive can be done in treatment sessions. In far more instances than I’d like to admit, I have seen therapists trying to reinvent the wheel with over complicated treatments or basic, unnecessary treatments to simply take up time.
By establishing a good foundation of what can and should be done by therapists, we all serve to benefit from the true advantages therapy can provide.
Creativity may be the answer, however, it is not as tangible of a skill as neuromuscular re-education or areas of the like. Creativity is more of a concept, similar to therapeutic use of self.
This is not to say you either have it or you don’t, rather it needs to be cultivated in some individuals. So what can be done to bring out your creative nature for the sake of treatments and all therapy-related tasks?
Tapping into all your experiences
Too often, newer graduates or students will focus so intently on treatment, they tend to forget so much of what they know. It is not only helpful, but imperative, to consider a patient’s entire situation when assessing treatment options. This is important for safety and to successfully target a patient’s needs and preferences.
However, in another light, it is important to consider all facets of your own situation, meaning each portion of what makes you who you are. Factors of your life such as your financial situation, your family upbringing, culture, traditions, daily knowledge, leisure skills, sports involvement, hobbies, interests, and more can all contribute positively to your creativity.
Regardless of whether you share these similarities with your patient, these factors all can contribute to your ability to create or plan something unique to your patient.
Collaborating between disciplines
Many institutions are realizing the importance of inter-disciplinary training, resulting in more collaborating within OT coursework. Fully engaging in these opportunities is important to gaining different perspectives and intentions for treatment.
While many may be required, universities often have symposiums, guest lectures, and other optional events to promote and enhance collaboration between disciplines. All of these are rich opportunities to broaden your perspective within healthcare.
Collaboration independent of a third party is another good way to enhance creativity, as simply networking with others can improve your knowledge and skill set.
Exploring different cultures
As with inter-disciplinary collaboration, many universities have cultural awareness as a core competency in their academic programs and institutions. Not only does this prepare students for dealing with individuals of many different cultures, but it is also meant to encourage everyone to embrace their culture as a part of who they are.
This is for the purpose of inclusivity, but primarily to make this of best use in whichever practice individuals choose to enter. By knowing your culture to the fullest and having good foundational experience in the cultures of others, therapists can fluidly treat patients according to their preferences rather than the standards of others.
Encouraging curiosity and confidence
Asking questions and being inquisitive regarding what interests you is the best way to learn new things. Those who have had their curiosity fostered and encouraged are far more likely to continue this behavior in the future.
Curiosity is a fantastic way to develop your own skills and knowledge, along with open doors many would not have known were there.
Curiosity goes hand in hand with confidence, as having the confidence to reach out for answers is vital when attempting to master any skill. Confidence is how we can all move toward resoluteness within our professions and skill sets.
Always being aware
Being aware and alert during lectures, labs, and demonstrations is key to properly retaining the information given. This allows for the opportunity to ask questions and process the information better than those who divide their attention between other tasks or distractions.
This level of awareness means you can ask questions in real-time, understand the rationale for the answers you receive, and process information correctly the first time. If you are distracted during a lecture, this may lead to students catching up and teaching the content to themselves at a later time, which may be the incorrect way. It will be harder to rewrite the mental program for this information if it is firstly processed in the wrong way.
Using emotional connections
Playing into the concept of empathy, using emotions appropriately during therapy can help in eliciting the proper emotions from patients.
By being emotionally invested and connected with the treatments you are providing will show genuine interest in the progress of your patients, along with a union to the activities you have planned.
Be wary of becoming too invested, however, as intense emotional connections to patients can lead to compassion fatigue and therapist burnout.
Ensure you are diligent in your self-care routines and have a regular and productive outlet for the emotions you are left with at the end of the day.
Burnout is one of the most common problems facing our profession and it is important to watch for the signs of this early to prevent significant exhaustion.