Why a Holistic Approach in Occupational Therapy Matters
If you’ve been looking for pathways into occupational therapy, you likely already know it is a very broad health care field. Professionals work with older adults, people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities, and much more. Many people, including new occupational therapy students themselves, find it difficult to explain how they are different from other health care practitioners, or defining occupational therapy specifically. What makes occupational therapy so unique can be surprisingly tricky to answer. The short answer is that OT practice centres around holistic practice. The long answer can be found down below.
A Definition of Occupation
Before I define what it means to be holistic, let me define the term ‘occupation’ in the context of occupational therapy services. An occupation is a meaningful activity, which can range from hobbies to roles or simply everyday tasks that are related to self-care. Now, moving on to holistic practice.
What Does Holistic Practice Mean?
As you might have suspected, a holistic approach takes into consideration the whole person, by being aware that both body and mind need to be taken into account. It is an integrative outlook on therapy to understand their clients and look at every factor that may affect their well-being.
For example, an occupational therapist treating a patient who is recovering from a stroke will not only look at their physical performance, but also their mental health, their relationships with others, etc. Other factors that you’ll need to take into account as well are age, gender, beliefs, cultural values and language. To summarise, the philosophy that occupational therapists have is that they aim to enable their patient to experience health in all of its facets, not to simply eliminate signs of illness.
In other words, a disruption in the occupation can adversely impact all areas of life, which is why it is so important to look at treatment in occupational therapy through a distinctly holistic lens. By doing so, occupational therapists allow their client to adapt to their environment, whether it be through a compensatory approach or a rehabilitative approach.
How Does an Occupational Therapist Perform Holistically?
An OT aims for a few things when treating their client, such as putting them at the forefront of their treatment along with providing them with early intervention, especially for those at risk at developing certain disorders. Therefore, holistic care goes hand in hand with a client-centred approach. But if that’s the case, what is the role of an OT then? Other than prescribing treatments and assessing their patients, an OT should empower their clients, motivating them throughout the recovery process, and one of the best sources of motivation is reconnecting individuals with their occupation.
The occupational therapist first listens to their client’s story and what their issues are, and then, asks them what their treatment goals are. They will then work in line with their goals and provide the proper interventions that are specific to each goal (though some interventions can tackle multiple goals at the same time).
As mentioned previously, consulting the patient constantly and avoiding didactic language is an appropriate way to perform in a holistic way. There are always going to be certain aspects of a client’s life that will be unknown to you, such as certain cultural practices, which is why it’s crucial to always make your patient an active participant in their own recovery. Listen to their story closely and then make your informed decision in regards to treatment. One of the things that holistic approach avoids is to generalise and apply the same intervention to every single patient you come across. This is a common issue amongst healthcare professionals experiencing burnout which holistic approach aims to rectify, by ensuring that the practitioner is aware of how they approach their assessment and intervention. By developing specialised interventions, a practitioner is more likely to successfully treat their patients.
Occupational therapists also need to consider the patient’s loved ones and how they can affect the patient’s recovery. This could mean providing interventions for family members and friends as well, which may include educating them about the patient’s disease, initiating family therapy, etc.
Have You Considered Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant?
If you’re interested in occupational therapy, you can dive into the industry as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA), which requires shorter study. OTA’s work under Occupational Therapists and perform many of the same duties. The role is hands on, and just as rewarding.