Top 3 Ways an Occupational Therapist Helps

Take a moment to reflect upon your daily routine. It may start with waking up in morning, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to the office, working, preparing supper, and finally going to sleep. These are all occupations–or activities–that give meaning and value to our life.

However, if something disrupts this daily routine, it can be difficult to concentrate and complete each activity successfully. Yet, chances are you have ways to roll with the disruptions. Maybe you take a moment to mediate or walk around the block. Or maybe you head to a coworkers office for a quick chat and laugh or listen to your favorite song.

Now imagine not having choices in your daily routine because someone manipulates every aspect of your life. Do you feel frustrated or confused? Now imagine you are free but feel lost because you have no idea how to manage your daily routine. Most trafficking survivors find themselves without the skills to manage regular day-to-day activities. Occupational therapy can help in three key ways.

1) Occupational Therapy Helps Process Anxiety:

You’re in Walmart and something sparks a memory of your time in the Life. You feel panicky and can barely breathe. You are frozen in place and can’t remember what you’re doing. What do you do?

It’s not uncommon for survivors of trauma to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.  When any of us are exposed to trauma our bodies stimulates a fight, flight, or freeze reaction in order to survive. However, this exposure impacts the way our nervous system processes our surrounding areas. After years of repeated trauma, a trafficking survivor’s sensory system has been overload with repeated stressful events, and are they are often left unable to process any minor stress or complication.

In order to increase a survivor’s ability to participate in meaningful routines and daily activities, I teach survivors how to regulate their emotions and control their behaviors with techniques such as deep breathing, utilizing deep pressure points, or listening to upbeat music.

2) Occupational Therapy Teaches a Survivor How to Complete Tasks:

Take a moment and think back  to when you learned important life skills such as preparing a meal, completing an exercise routine, or creating a financial budget. How old were you? Did someone help mentor you through these tasks? Many survivors were young when entering the Life thus, missing out on learning these necessary skills.

When joining our Emergency Assessment program, the women complete a checklist addressing the life skills that are important to them. Creating a schedule is one of the areas many of the women identify as a need, in which we (the case manager and I) will do our best to help the survivor learn how to prioritize daily tasks.

3) Occupational Therapy Helps Develop Hobbies:

When I ask the women what they enjoy doing for fun, the most popular answer is, “I don’t know.” I  begin to list activities such as painting, cooking, or playing board games, in which most women respond, “I have never done those things before,” or “I am not very good at those things.”

In order to receive a better understanding of what the women are interested in, I provide them with an interest activity checklist, which contains a number of popular hobbies. Then we try out all different kinds activities together in group sessions or one-on-one. We cook and eat a meal together, or paint, or make vision boards. Many of these activities not only help spark creative ideas, but can also be used as a calming mechanism.

By addressing the areas in the survivor’s life she experiences the most difficulty, occupational therapy can help the women become independent and successful with their daily activities in order to begin the next step in their journey.  My ultimate goal as an occupational therapy student is to help the women become independent and successful with their daily activities in order to begin the next step in their journey.  

From Guatemala to Houston

During my sophomore year at Briar Cliff University, there was a lecture on campus about human sex trafficking that sparked my interest. I wasn’t very familiar with sex trafficking, but there was something about the small poster in the cafeteria that grabbed my attention. During the lecture, I was amazed by the statistics, stories, and how fast it is growing throughout the United States. However, I believed there was no way a young woman like myself could make a difference, or so I thought.

Before I knew it, I was graduating from undergrad and beginning a new chapter in my life at the University of South Dakota (USD) as an occupational therapy student. That fall, one of my classmates was working with sex trafficking survivors to better understand the role of occupational therapy for this population. On many occasions, I found myself asking questions to learn more about her experiences, however, I did not search for new information beyond our conversations.

A year passed and I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Guatemala with other occupational therapy students to provide services for those in need. During this week long journey, I was reminded of my duty to serve others. I began thinking of ways I could serve individuals in my own country. This thought stuck with me as I began brainstorming ideas for my capstone project (the capstone project encourages doctoral students to enhance their skills in growing areas of occupational therapy).

One day, while scrolling through Facebook, someone shared an article revealing a Sister’s Plan to open a long-term home for sex trafficking survivors. Fortuitously, the Sister was a professor at my alma mater. While reading the article, I knew the Lord was calling me to work with this population. Therefore, I approached my professor who had experience working with survivors in a long-term home. A couple of meetings, several emails, and many prayers later, I was preparing my capstone to work with sex trafficking survivors in Sioux City, Iowa.

Then, in late October 2018, I received an email explaining that my capstone placement in Sioux City was no longer possible. With two months till my capstone project began, I quickly pivoted and texted my friend to learn more about her cousin’s organization, Rescue Houston. The previous summer at my friend’s wedding, she introduced me to Allison, the founder of Rescue Houston.

Allison and I were reconnected, and she invited me to join the Rescue Houston team. Praying for God’s guidance, He responded with three signs all pointing to Houston, Texas. Now, 978 miles later, I am once again amazed by how God shapes our experiences over time and leads us to where we are meant to be.

In May 2019, I will graduate with my Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree from the University of South Dakota. I haven’t decided where I would like to settle down and find a job, although my mom would love it if I came back home to Nebraska!