Grace & Truth: Can Occupational Therapy Include Politics?

I was one of those Americans who watched in horror as what started as a protest on January 6th turned into a dangerous and deadly scene live, before our eyes on every American news channel. I watched while people climbed structures, broke windows and pushed past security gates. I watched days later as more video footage surfaced with firsthand images and accounts of stories of what transpired that day. What also surfaced was the fact that one of the people who entered the Capitol building on January 6th was one of our very own: Christine Priola, an occupational therapy practitioner from Ohio. Then the question arose: can occupational therapy include politics?

I watched as news of this therapist and her resignation was shared with colleagues, friends and on social media. I am a member of several pediatric and school-based therapy online groups where the thread is typically therapy ideas. This time the posts shared the news of our fellow occupational therapist in the news. Needless to say, a heated and very divided discourse ensued. I watched while hundreds and hundreds of comments and responses to comments poured in, which indicated to me that we are just as divided in our profession as we are as a country. Fellow occupational therapists couldn’t agree on what were facts as reported by whatever news outlets they frequented and the divide just grew from there. Comments got so heated that several were removed for violating the policies of the group that reiterate respect and professionalism.

I watched as several therapists shared screenshots of the responses to the article from different organizations affiliated with occupational therapy. Therapists either agreed or disagreed with these responses, and some very heatedly. More screenshots were shared to prove or disprove what were facts and the debates continued. Some threads were deleted. New threads emerged. Therapists began to share different social media therapy groups to join where people felt similarly to you. Others left the therapy groups completely in disgust because they felt politics were not to be mentioned in such groups, nor should politics be a part of what we do. Still others opposed and felt that politics are very much a part of our profession, specifically citing occupational justice, which ties engagement in occupation and well-being to social conditions (Grajo & Bousselle, 2018).

It seems that we have come to a defining moment in our profession. The world happenings are impacting us all whether we know it or not. It is impacting how we are engaging in our own occupations and that of our clients. I couldn’t help but wonder after watching everything unfold, how we can come together to actualize the 2025 Vision when we can’t even agree on facts or what is or is not a part of our role as occupational therapy practitioners? I know in times like this we look to our leadership to guide us, but I can’t help but wonder if this needs to be a bottom-up approach as “politics” now appear to be encompassing and influencing personal positions on social justice and public health issues.

There are many questions that have continued to surface within our profession as we all face change and uncertainty. We are not our best selves as a country nor as a profession and we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Many are struggling professionally to adopt new technology skills or to navigate pandemic working conditions, while others are struggling personally as they may be dealing with anxiety and depression. Most of us wear multiple hats in addition to being occupational therapy practitioners: we are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers. We come from all walks of life, and we are all trying to make it through 2021.

As I watched the news and subsequent aftermath unfold this week, I settled on two words: grace and truth. Grace is the word I continue to use daily with my clients and their families, to remind them to be forgiving to themselves and each other in these unprecedented times. But on the other side of that grace is the balance: truth. We have a unique opportunity to face the mirror that has presented itself in the ugliness that we have all witnessed this past year in our country.

We must be honest with ourselves and each other and begin to foster empathy amongst ourselves by listening to understand and proceeding with a course of action we can all agree to as occupational therapy practitioners. This will require collaboration and honest, thoughtful conversations. It may look different for each of us as we honor what is meaningful and purposeful in different ways. My question to you is what work will you do to unite us as a profession and move us forward?

References

Grajo, L. C. & Boisselle, A. K. (2018). Infusing and occupation justice perspective to technology us in occupational therapy practice. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 6(3). https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1543

Occupational therapist with a passion for kids, culture & collaboration. Scholar | Adjunct Professor | Founder of @ThrivingKidsOT.