Top 3 Ways an Occupational Therapist Helps Survivors of Human Trafficking
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 therapist is to help the women become independent and successful in their daily activities and flourish in their new journey.