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Four Years at the Mount

Senior year

Occupational Therapy

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

(9/2015) While I write this, I am defiantly staring at the piles around my room of items to be packed so that I can head off to school for my senior year. The inevitability of homework, readings, and syllabus week sends shivers down my spine. And yet, every year, I pack up my things and move away for nine months so that I can get a degree in health science, so I can go to another school, so I can get my degree in occupational therapy. It is not uncommon for me (or anyone for that matter) to reflect on their inspirations and reasons for choosing their career path while another daunting semester stares them in the face.

Before I get into what led me to my decision to choose occupational therapy as a career, I feel I must dispel some rumors. First of all: NO, occupational therapy is not where you go when you need help finding a new job. Also, it is not the same thing as physical therapy. And finally, it is not just "arts and crafts" time, although it can sometimes be presented as such.

Occupational therapy is the improvement of everyday tasks for individuals through the use of therapy and modifications, and in some cases, new equipment.

Oftentimes, occupational therapists must get innovative and really think outside the box in order to help their patients. Occupational therapists work with infants and geriatrics and everyone in between. The clientele is everywhere—in their own homes, elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes… wherever clients go, occupational therapists go too!

The name comes from the fact that the therapy helps improve daily tasks, or "occupations" of normal living, and I guess they decided that occupational therapy had a better ring to it than "daily task therapy."

As of now, I am in the process of packing up to start my senior year at the Mount, and simultaneously applying for graduate programs so that I can wear yet another cap and gown three years from now. I guess the thrill of graduation just has not set in for me—I keep going back for more.

All of the work that goes into the application process had already set me thinking about what could have possibly convinced me that this was the way to go? I have spent many hours studying, observing, reviewing programs, contacting admissions counselors, vising schools, as well as spent hard-earned money in order to apply to these programs and find the best fit. What could it be about occupational therapy that has made me so determined, so dead-set that this is what my future holds?

Okay, pause. Before I really get into it, I have to give some background. I did not always want to do occupational therapy (shocker). In fact, freshman in high school Katie Powell was certain she would be a reporter. But then, junior in high school Katie Powell took Anatomy and Physiology, and she was certain she would be a physical therapist. And then, sophomore in college Katie Powell was told she might need physical therapy to rehab a shoulder injury.

It was upon listening to myself argue with the athletic trainer, claiming I would not to go to physical therapy, that I realized how poor of a fit that would be. In fact, I think I stated that I would "literally refuse" therapy—what kind of aspiring PT would refuse to go to PT?

At that time, I began reevaluating all of the choices I had made that had led to that point. Classic college sophomore, I know.

I considered switching my major to everything from business to anthropology, but I could not get away from the notion of helping people, around which I had always based my career choices.

When I was young, I went on a trip to Guatemala to help build a school. My fondest memories were spent carrying a little girl on my back up and down the stairs so that she could play with the other kids. After the trip I told my mom that I thought it was my calling to help everyone feel as if they belong (No, seriously, I am not making that up).

As a journalist I could inform the public, but it was not enough. As a physical therapist I could help heal injuries, but it had become devastatingly clear that my heart was not in it. I once read, "physical therapy teaches you to walk, but occupational therapy teaches you to dance," and ever since then I was captivated by the difference between the two. Walking is standard. Dancing is a talent. Dancing is special to an individual. To someone who grew up dancing, and lost that ability, its return would feel like welcoming home an old friend.

I learned that occupational therapy restores in people things that everyone takes for granted—their normalcy, their independence, and their dignity. I am dazzled by the weight that those gifts hold. I well up with pride imagining my first client successfully graduating therapy. My hands shake as if I am meeting a celebrity when in the presence of current occupational therapists.

I do not know if one could gather this from reading my articles, but I am a high-energy and highly creative person. I do not do things half way, and I like to keep them interesting, yet efficient. I am one of those people coming up with really odd-looking solutions to problems, such as tying my shoes together so they don’t get lost, using paper clips to secure my chargers to my nightstand, and tying a string to the light in my room so that it hangs low enough for me to reach it. Again, I am serious—the string has probably been there for eight years and now I don’t think it can come untied. Anyway, upon realizing that occupational therapy is a field that is all about coming up with creative solutions to everyday problems, it was like seeing your childhood home after years of being away. I had never felt so at peace, but at the same time so overwhelmed with joy, that there was the perfect career for me. Instantly I knew that I had to do everything I could to become an occupational therapist.

During this past spring, I had the privilege of observing an occupational therapist working in an elementary school. She told me honestly about the trouble she goes through with regular classroom teachers and superiors, budget constraints and parents, and everything in between. I know her intent was to show me what the job truthfully consisted of, and I appreciated that immensely. She told me she hoped she had not frightened me away from the career. I told her that as I watched those kids every day, whether they left screaming "I hate OT" or "I love OT," I could not help but feel that their lives would one day be better because of their occupational therapist. What more can one ask for in a career, than to end both good days and bad with a feeling that you have bettered the future?

Read other articles by Katie Powell