I had the opportunity to attend some of the sessions at the World OT Day Virtual Exchange this year. There were so many great sessions that will give me a lot to think about in the coming weeks.
One that stood out, was From Tragedy to Triumph: A Tribute to Occupational Therapists by Lisa Iliadis. Lisa described her experience of recovering from brain damage, from her perspective of being an OT. I was so impressed with her amazing recovery and her optimism. This experience gave her a whole new perspective on OT and how to work with clients.
It left me thinking about how we really cannot completely understand a client's perspective until we have walked in his or her shoes.
I have experienced a lack of understanding from others when I've been out in public with my son, and he has become overwhelmed and had a meltdown. People can be incredibly insensitive with their comments, and many people automatically assume the parent must be doing something wrong.
Anyone who has had a child who has meltdowns understands - I have seen lots of blogs about similar situations on the SPD Blogger Network. However, if you have not lived it, it is easy to pass judgement.
Claire, from OT on Wheels, developed a new perspective on disability rights when, after having a child, she ended up needing to use a wheelchair. How many times have we heard clients complain about poor transportation options, difficulty with disability benefits, and insensitive Home Care staff? It took on a different meaning for Claire when she was having to deal with these systemic problems for herself.
I have had many clients with psychiatric disabilities tell me that family members have told them that they just need to "pull up their socks". It is so easy for others who are well to assume that those who are not well must have done something wrong.
We cannot possibly have all the bad experiences that our clients have had. When many OTs start out, they have had very few life experiences. I remember trying to help clients with parenting issues before I had children myself - a very difficult task indeed!
What can we do to be sensitive to the fact that we do not have the same life experiences as our clients? I think we just need to listen very carefully. We need to also listen for the meaning our clients apply to their disabilities.
One point that Lisa mentioned, was that we need to ensure our interventions are practical, and directly related to what a person wants and needs to do. She reports that she much preferred stacking cans in the kitchen and ironing to doing other "exercises".
Reading accounts from people with the similar disabilities can be helpful as well. With so many blogs out there, there is likely somebody describing situations similar to what your client is experiencing. Many people also write books about their experiences.
Finally, we need to trust that people generally do the best they can. If they are not following through in a way we expect, there is likely a reason for that. In order to really help our clients, we need to find out those reasons.