Connecting Occupational Therapy (OT) to Course Materials By: Karlie Ashcroft

What is occupational therapy? The better question may be, what isn't it? OT treats people of all ages in cognitive, emotional, and physical contexts using each individual's meaningful occupations. It is a holistic profession, meaning it cares for the entire person, not just their diagnosis; this contrasts with the medical model used by many other medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and physical therapists.

1) OT teaching client how to use reacher/walker 2) Components of OT 3) OT working on gross motor skills with client 4) Built-up silverware for someone w/ Arthritis or Parkinson's

OT relates heavily to the information discussed in this course, including Pope Francis’s Laudato Si, Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, and Augustine’s Confessions. These texts discuss the ways in which people have an impact on others and the environment around them. Catholic Social Teachings can also be related to these writings and OT.

Gregory Boyle and some of the homies.

SOlidarity and Cooperation

In Ladauto Si, Pope Francis (2015) chronicles the environmental problems that affect us all, including pollution, rising sea levels, perilous natural disasters, and the extinction of wildlife. In addition, he discusses the need the need for the human race to join together in the fight against climate change; he refers to us as one family under God, and stresses the importance of protecting each other and our "common home" (Francis, 2015, pp. 1).

This protection of the environment aligns with the Catholic social teaching of Care for Creation, which refers to all of creation as a gift from God that should be greatly valued and respected (Catholic Social Teaching, n.d.). We must also work to promote Human Dignity, which states that human beings are created “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27), through advocating for and protecting the human rights of all people.

This idea of protection relates to a policy in OT known as occupational justice, in which practitioners advocate not only for their individual clients, but larger communities and human beings as a whole; occupational justice takes many forms, including legislation, accessibility measures, and providing necessary services and care. One example of this policy in action is the AFYA Foundation (2015), founded by Danielle Butin, which collects unused and recycled medical supplies from medical centers across the United States and ships them to “Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean” (pp.2), providing people in developing areas with much needed resources.

In Tattoos, Father Boyle (2010) also promotes solidarity and cooperation amongst perhaps the most vulnerable of groups: former and current gang members, “homies”. His work at Homeboy Industries strives to provide the homies with work that is meaningful, while teaching them how to respect themselves and those around them, including their enemies (members of rival gangs) (Boyle, 2010). Boyle works to promote solidarity, kinship, and compassion.

"...finds solidarity in the starkest wound of others" (Boyle, 2015, p. 82)
"its [compassion's] truest measure lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them" (Boyle, 2015, p. 71).

OT demonstrates this same idea of kinship, as practice is client-centered: clients make their own goals and is an active decision maker throughout the intervention process; it is in this method of therapy that therapists and clients are equals.

The "little way," the impact of love and attention to detail

Another main idea described by Pope Francis (2015) is the “gratuitous” nature of love (pp.228); he says that “…it [love] can never be a means of repaying others for what they have done or will do for us,” meaning that love is not about reciprocation. Pope Francis believes that we should love others because it is the right thing to do, not because of what we may receive in return. He goes on to describe St. Therese’s “little way” (Francis, 2015, pp.230); she believed that it is through small acts of kindness and kind words that God is represented in one’s everyday life, and that we must care for and treat everyone whom we meet with empathy and respect.

This idea relates to OT in the sense that the profession looks at each person as a unique individual, tailoring interventions to fit each person’s goals. It can be easy for one to get caught up in the crowd while walking throughout life, but treating each person as if they are special and not just another client is how OT respects the individual, again demonstrating the SCT of Human Dignity.

Even what seem to be the smallest or least significant parts of an intervention are important; it is the attention to detail in the context of each person’s meaningful occupations and goals that sets OT apart from other professions. Everything down to the placement of items and the lighting or temperature of a room affect a client’s ability to carry out an activity. Relating this back to the larger, earthly scale of things, everything each one of us does affects something greater than ourselves; leaving a napkin behind on a cafeteria table makes a maintenance worker’s job that much harder; leaving a napkin behind on a hike puts an animal’s health at risk. Humans have this ability to effect change and impact others that most do not even realize.

The effects human beings can have on one another is seen throughout Confessions. In Book 2, pages 42-43, Augustine (2017) describes stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree while with his friends at the time. The act of stealing was not about the pears at all, rather Augustine was insecure in his morals and identity and stole them while in the presence of his friends who desired to do so; perhaps Augustine would not have committed this crime had he not been surrounded by poor influences.

Augustine stealing the pears

This corruption of the good is seen again in Book 6: Alypius was taken by a group of students to watch a gladiator show, by which he was initially repulsed (Augustine, 2017). Although Alypius tried his best to close himself off to the violence around him, he eventually gave in and enjoyed the bloodshed (Augustine, 2017). Both Augustine and Alypius experienced the profound impact that humans can have on each other, and although these are negative examples, they demonstrate the potential we have to make positive change if only we focus our abilities on the good.

Gladiator show
“…I stole a thing I had…in lush supply already; and I didn’t want to enjoy the thing my hand grasped for—the actual stealing, the transgression, was going to be my treat" (Augustine, 2015, p. 42)

Community and the Common Good

Pope Francis (2015) suggests we come together as communities across the globe and work towards the “common good” (pp. 18), more specifically the protection of the climate, which he refers to as “belonging to all and meant for all” (pp.23). He believes it is the human race’s duty to reverse the environmental damage we have caused, most importantly through reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Francis, 2015). If people worldwide adopted these lifestyle changes, our negative impact on the world would be greatly reduced.

The common good in the occupational therapy profession is serving all people, not just those with a disability; occupational therapists work to improve the health of entire communities through community-based prevention methods, and adaptations. An example of working towards this common good is the implementation of Universal Design (UD), or “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability” (National Disability Authority, 2012, pp.1).

The principles of UD

In Book 6, Augustine (2017) speaks about his idea for a communal estate in which he and his friends and their wives would live together. He wished to create a unified community without the burdens of worrying about the individual ownership of material things.

"We were going to create…a single combined household estate. In the integrity of friendship, we would see that things didn’t belong to us individually, but instead, what came from the entire community would be unified, and this whole would belong to each of us, and every item to everybody" (Augustine, 2017, p.163).

Augustine’s idea for a common good was much like that of Pope Francis; he wanted those around him to come together and make a big lifestyle change: reducing worldly possessions. He wished for his friends to unite for this common cause much like Pope Francis wants people today to unite in the fight against climate change.

Father Boyle’s common good is fighting conflicts and stereotypes with kindness and resilience. He discusses countless incidences in which his homies were judged by the way they looked or spoke; people assumed the worst in the homies because they looked “scary” or “different” (Boyle, 2010). Boyle (2010) emphasized to each individual he served that “kindness is the only strength there is” (p.124), meaning that they would make it in the real world if they matched the negativity with which they were often faced with kindness, they would be successful. The homies learned to put aside their differences with one another and formed a community among themselves, in which they worked, laughed, and loved.


Occupational therapy practice and principles are deeply related to the materials covered in class. The texts emphasized love, solidarity, cooperation, attention to detail, the impact of human beings, and the common good, all of which are a part of the OT profession. It is imperative that human beings come together and form a united front against the issues presented in Laudato Si, whether that be through treating a client, turning off the water while one brushes their teeth, or smiling at a stranger in the supermarket. Human beings have an incredible power to make change, and it should not be wasted.

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