How Being A Parent Has Helped Me As A Therapist

My work as an Occupational Therapist has it’s benefits. I work specifically in mental health with young adults ages 18-24. However, many often associate occupational therapy with pediatric work. In which case, I often hear people describe the idea that my profession gives me the skills to provide my daughter with above and beyond challenges that will give her an advantage in life.  

In some ways it does, but not how most would expect.  

Her Exceptional Fine Motor Skills

It was this Halloween a friend noted how well developed my daughters fine motor skills were for her age. My daughter can open jars, lids, and more things than I’d prefer. In fact, her well developed fine motor skills are slightly bothersome because we have to be so careful with what she can access. Halloween was not the first time others have made note of my daughters healthy development and made comments such as “I bet it’s great to have an occupational therapist as a dad.” However, being an occupational therapist has only helped me recognize the value of “day-to-day” activities. 

I mean, being an effective parent has as much to do with what I don’t do as what I do. 

A cute picture here
“The Itsy-Bitsy-Spider…”

The Gold Standard of Occupational Therapy

The gold standard of occupational therapy is “occupation.” That is to engage in the everyday tasks people do. This could include but is not limited to; showering, dressing, eating, playing, taking pets out for walks, going to the grocery store, and playing cards with friends. The mistake people often make about therapy when they imagine colorful cones, bins of odd shaped toys, and fancy gym equipment when doing those “therapy” like tasks, is that they are better than doing the everyday tasks I just listed. In truth, it is far better to be practicing showering, dressing, eating, playing, and so forth, than moving cones.  

In my opinion, the two things fancy therapy techniques and tools are used for is: 

  1. To support eventually practicing the occupation (showering, dressing, eating, playing etc.) 
  2. To avoid the miserable boredom of repeating the attempt at occupation if it’s not working. 

What I mean by number two is, if therapy is working on self-feeding, a patient can’t just practice eating for an hour or they would vomit. The use of therapy tools by occupational therapist is always only to support the eventual and hopefully current engagement in occupation or day-to-day tasks. That last sentence is not my opinion. 

Engaging in Everyday Tasks is the Best Therapy

It is not likely I could make my daughter a super human with therapy techniques. My daughter has well developed fine motor skills because I allowed her to help me hammer nails, wash dishes, prepare food, play with my special Star Wars Legos, and put many book shelves together. I was never providing therapy, but I was also not pushing her away from participating in every-day tasks. Kids are natural at engaging in occupation, the danger is when we stop them.  

Lots of Legos Here
Sharing the Lego Tradition

Even kids with developmental disabilities, the thing that is most beneficial, is for them to simply to be allowed to engage in day-to-day tasks even if specialized tools are needed.  

What parenting has taught me about my job as an occupational therapist, is the most effective therapy I can provide is often NOT me teaching and educating, but rather simply doing pumpkin carving. That is, simply to support and experience occupation with others. 

The day before Halloween I facilitated one of the best mental health groups yet. I measure this by my personal objective observation of joy and laughter. Group members said “I can’t believe I’m pumpkin carving in a locked inpatient unit” and “my girlfriend is going to be so surprised when I tell her what we did for group while I was here.” I even had one patient discharge and take her pumpkin home with her to show her kids. 

Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoyed it and remained safe!

I don’t have lots of research for the post, just sharing a little something I’ve learned that I hope can be of value to you.

For more info on what Occupational Therapy is, click here.

For more about what I do, read: What I Teach for Mental Health

One Reply to “How Being A Parent Has Helped Me As A Therapist”

  1. Nicely carved pumpkin! I think another link between parenting and OT is patience and the acceptance that results will not be perfect. I can attest that practicing everyday things (like typing) can help with other tasks like using a key in a lock – which is far more challenging than you might realize, if you have a disability. Congratulations on your loving work with your daughter – keep it up!

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