Did you know that OTs can work in convents? I had no idea until Julia reached out to share about her experience! For those who don’t know, a convent is a local community or house of a religious order or congregation (Merriam-Webster). This is definitely one of the more unique OT settings that I have heard about so I am excited that Julia is sharing about her experience today!
My name is Julia Valine, I am a second year MOT student. I am currently finishing up my first level II FW placement. I am from Easthampton, MA, and I hope to go into acute care or SNF!
What setting are you sharing about today and can you give a brief description of it? What qualifies a person to receive therapy in this setting?
I am in the last week of working at a convent! In Enfield, CT, it is one of many convents in the order, which spans across the U.S. and Canada. The convent has both independent living and a care center. I work primarily with those in the care center. These sisters are older adults who need assistance with I/ADLs, or who are not safe to live independently. Any number of dx, conditions, or required assistance qualifies a sister to receive OT.
What is OT’s role in this setting?
As a mental health placement, this is setting is even more unique. We focus on engagement in leisure pursuits, socialization, daily routine tasks, overall health and wellness, bereavement, exercise. We run groups (5-12 participants in size) that focus on socialization and exercise, as well as have individual sessions with the sisters focusing on their specific goals and desired outcomes. As OTs we are uniquely qualified to provide services in this setting as we are holistic practitioners addressing physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Did you feel prepared going into this setting based off of your classes? And how did you prepare before starting?
I did feel prepared for this placement based off of my education. We had not only mental health classes, but also labs. In labs is where we learned and practiced running groups, which helped me to feel prepared to do it in FW. Before starting, my C.I. sent us examples of the documentation used to help us get accustomed to it. She also sent us information about the setting, and an article previous students had written about their experience. Both were really helpful for gaining a sense of what the placement would be like and require before starting.
What resources were the most helpful during your time there?
The OT Toolkit had so many great ideas, educational handouts and interventions for working with clients.
Personally, I also utilized pinterest quite often to come up with fun group games or individual art projects.
How did you stay organized and manage your time?
To fieldwork, I brought with me my laptop, iPad, binder with copies of assessments I had or planned to use, notes on groups, common dx, and intervention ideas, thick colored markers, a clipboard with storage to keep assessments, client information and a running list of questions for my C.I. or to look up later, as well as my planner. There were 2 other students at my placement, so together we created a google calendar with all of our sessions color coded to ensure we did not overlap with clients / groups or locations of sessions.
What was your schedule like?
Our days were Monday – Friday 8am -4pm. During that time, we held two groups per day (9:30/1:30, 45-60 mins), as well as one small group (30 mins), and 3 individual sessions (60 mins) per day.
What assessments did you use most?
Personally, I used the interest checklist, the KAWA model assessment, falls efficacy scale and geriatric depression scale the most frequently. Although I did also use the Power-Mobility Indoor Driving Assessment (PIDA), Tug, and Tinetti multiple times as well.
What conditions/diagnoses did you see most often?
We had clients with an extremely large variety of dx. Some of the most common we saw were: anxiety, depression, CVA/TIA, O.A., dementia, decreased endurance, poor balance, contracture management, visual impairments, history of falls and peripheral neuropathy.
What did a typical session look like?
Group Sessions- usually centered upon games (monopoly, clue, trouble) turned into exercise games. Wacky wednesday groups introduced clients to a variety of exercise including: cardio drumming, tai chi, yoga, boxing, karate, zumba and laughter yoga.
How did you stay client-centered and occupation-based?
What helped me to stay client centered and occupation based was making flashcards with the client’s name, interests and goals written on them to easily refer back to.
Did you have to do a project or in-service? Could you share what topic you chose?
Our project was filming some of our groups and individual sessions that the convent could share with their sister convents across the country, demonstrating the benefits of incorporating OT, and the various ways we can help promote overall well being for the sisters.
What was your favorite part of this fieldwork experience?
My favorite part of this fieldwork and the most rewarding was seeing the sisters improve. Throughout the 12 weeks, I was able to see the sisters improve physically, mentally and emotionally. Life in a convent can be very routine, quiet and solitary, especially as the sisters get older and become more dependent. Tack on top of that the COVID pandemic, increasing isolation, placing a heavier burden on maintaining one’s mental health, limiting the ability to leave their rooms let alone the convent. Increasing socialization among the sisters (safely), increasing participation in leisure pursuits, and facilitating laughter created such a positive impact both on the sisters individually, and the convent as a whole! We implemented a joke of the day in order to ensure that each sister had at least one laugh per day and used it as a transition into group.
What was your least favorite part of this fieldwork experience?
Throughout our 12 weeks, 3 sisters passed away. Having to run bereavement groups employing multiple counseling and coping skills was really challenging. Especially towards the end as we got to know and develop deeper relationships with the clients, learning to utilize the therapeutic use of self to help sisters process and mourn the passings was challenging.
What is something you learned that you will take with you for the rest of your career?
Take time to create, develop and foster therapeutic relationships. These are so very important and can easily be overlooked. Several of my clients were reserved, shy, and did not want to participate in therapy in the beginning. Showing them I wanted to get to know them and work on things they found meaningful and purposeful, without assuming what why might be was a huge turning point in our relationships. I will also remember the importance of a smile. With all the PPE we wear and the masks the clients have to wear to stay safe, we often forget how important and meaningful a smile can be. Learning to smile with my eyes has made a huge difference.
What advice do you have for a student about to start in this setting?
Remember that the convent is their home. Much like in a SNF, the client’s room is their home. Being respectful of this will be important. Knock before entering rooms, be quiet during times of prayer and remain professional. Most importantly, show the sisters it is okay to have fun and laugh. There are some common stereotypes about nuns, almost none I have found to be true. Get to the know your client for who they are, as you would in any other setting.
If you have more questions, feel free to contact Julia!