Empowerment via Education
I’d like to share a recent experience I had at Kohl’s and how it applies to our OT world.
Checking out at Kohl’s:
Me: Oooh, can I have some of these scratch off coupons? I’m an occupational therapist and I work with kids who need to work on fine motor skills and this would be great for them.
Cashier: Sure! Hey, my brother is in high school and he gets OT for fine motor stuff! That’s such a cool idea, I should bring some home for him.
Me: Look at these hangers with clips on them, those would also be great. And the stapler and the tape in front of you. Just look all around you and you can use almost anything!
Cashier: That’s really cool. I never thought of all that.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of client/patient/consumer/caregiver education. We need to remember the fish parable – if we give a person a fish they eat once. If we teach a person to fish, they eat forever. I know us occupational therapists pride ourselves on education and helping others, especially with things like “If X happens, try Y”. And we do try to teach our clients how to fish, but sometimes we teach them very specifically and it doesn’t generalize to other fishing poles, fishing locations, etc.
We need to look at education as an evolution of empowerment. We do need to teach our clients specific strategies but we MOST IMPORTANTLY need to teach our clients how to do their own problem solving by teaching them more global strategies they can use when encountering challenges. We want to help our clients develop self-efficacy, a sense of control of their environment, a sense of the importance of self-advocacy and taking responsibility. This is all done through education, but with the very important goal of empowerment. This is an evolving process, progress in empowerment can take time, but it requires encouraging creativity, flexibility, innovation, solution-oriented activities, and the “common” sense that we all know is actually quite uncommon!
When I was in Georgia, I worked with a woman who needed help with energy conservation and joint protection techniques. I gave her a ton of specific ideas and strategies, but a lot of our time was spent looking at how SHE could do the problem-solving and use her own understanding and knowledge of herself to see her world differently, even if the solution was not spelled out in front of her. It may even just be that she acknowledges the great things she was ALREADY doing and not even realizing how great they were (the self-advocacy, asking for help for certain strenuous tasks, taking breaks…).
For my slightly older kids who are cognitively intact (I’m only talking like 4th grade here), I’m doing more work with them on self-advocacy (a HUGE part of empowerment) as well as more work on problem solving things they encounter in their school day that are challenging. When they ask me a question, I often work with them to help THEM figure it out rather than me just answer “Oh, X happened? Do Y.”. Instead it’s more like “Well, that’s a great question. So X happened? Hmm, let’s figure out some of the ways we can solve that problem. What have you already tried? What do you think we could try?” Etc etc. We work as a team, and I’m modeling the problem solving strategies they can be using themselves.
All of this is often easier said than done, and it of course depends on context, environment, amount of time, cognition level, etc. But from a very global viewpoint, I think one of the most important things we can do as occupational therapists (or again, in almost any role) is see ourselves as agents of empowerment. Here’s a fish, now let’s have you fish, now let’s figure out how we can fish any time, any place, and share our fish with others too. 🙂