Occupational Therapy is much broader than people think – could you tell us what it is?

Occupational therapy is a profession which seeks to understand the importance of how the way(s) in which we occupy our time, influences our health and well-being. Occupation refers to the everyday activities we all carry out as individuals, as part of families, groups and communities that bring meaning and purpose to life. It includes all the things we need to do (for example getting up, washed, and dressed), want to do (perhaps ride a bike, read a book, play sport) or are expected to do (caring responsibilities, employment etc.).

As a result, occupational therapy is not (only) about responding to the needs of people who live with long-term conditions, disability and/or disadvantage(s) and inequality. Occupation is an everyday part of all our lives and consequently, the profession contributes towards an increasingly important role in health promotion and disease prevention.

Can you give some examples of simple interventions that help people in their day-to-day lives?allied health occupational therapy

I think one of the most important interventions or contribution occupational therapists can offer in our everyday lives is to understand and value how we can each find occupational balance. In other words, to balance those activities we need to do, or are expected to do, with those occupations that can allow us to develop, thrive and/or to flourish.

It is not always easy to value and prioritise the occupations we want to do, for example singing in a choir, supporting, or playing for our local football team, being creative. Yet it is hugely important that we do make space for those activities that can help maintain and sustain health and well-being, which also can offer purpose to lives. Variation in what we do as well as how much time we spend doing different occupations or activities is all extremely important. Whilst this might sound simple in practice, for lots of different reasons, balancing multiple occupations can be extremely challenging.  

Can you share one of your most rewarding experiences as an occupational therapist?

I have been extremely fortunate in that I have very much enjoyed my career as an occupational therapist, which has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with so many talented and incredible people. My area of practice, including research, has been with older people and their generosity and willingness to share with me their experiences of later life has always inspired me.

However, I think the most rewarding experience of my career has always been to work with occupational therapy students. I consider it a privilege to be able to contribute to occupational therapy education, and to watch our students learn, grow and to go on and make a positive difference to the lives of people, across communities, in a diverse range of settings and countries. Watching our students graduate every year is always a special moment and it is something that has become even more special to me as I grow older. 

Do you think the sector has changed much since you did your original training? Has technology changed the field?

Where do I begin…. when I first started email was not a ‘thing’ (sometimes I wish it was still not a ‘thing’ 😊) and the first mobile phone I ever used was as part of a project grant in 1993!  So yes, things have changed greatly since I graduated and of course technology has advanced rapidly. The opportunities that now exist to adopt technologies that can be used to support independent living is quite incredible, including their versatility. And of course, that is hugely exciting as well as challenging at times to ensure we as a profession keep up with technological advances, recognising their wider potential benefit and application to people. However, that is something we are good at and there are multiple examples of how and in what way occupational therapists contribute to the design and, importantly, application of technological solutions.

However, the one constant throughout my career has been change, and as a profession, we seem to do positive change extremely well. Recognising the strengths and benefits of research, policy and wider developments that can be harnessed for the benefit of those we work with.

What are you excited about with the new course?

Pretty much everything! I am looking forward to working with my colleagues, Dr Dawn Drury, and Dr Julia Sterman. They each bring a unique skill set, vast experience, and deep commitment to our MSc Occupational Therapy (Pre-Reg) degree, which aligns with and complements our programme aims. We make a great team!

In addition, I am excited about delivering our revised curriculum and working with inter-disciplinary colleagues such as physiotherapy and social work, including wider colleagues from across the School of Health Sciences and indeed Edinburgh Napier University generally. There is a lot to learn, and I enjoy learning together.