What Makes “Occupation,” Therapy?

Today was my Level II students last day. She did a wonderful job growing both personally and professionally, and we enjoyed countless meaningful conversations throughout her fieldwork. We had one final chat today that I will always remember. I was pleased and inspired for two reasons. First, she communicated a deeper understanding of the most essential piece of the puzzle. Secondly, I discovered a clearer more effective way of relating my “alternative” approach to OT.

As you know, one of the core principles of OT is that engaging in purposeful activity (i.e. occupation) improves both physical and mental health. But have you ever considered why? And what makes one activity purposeful, and another not?

When we dig a little bit deeper, what becomes apparent (as Eckhart Tolle teaches) is that the most satisfying element of any “purposeful” activity is not the activity, but rather our attention to the present moment. Being focused isn’t just psychologically enjoyable – it has been scientifically proven to produce healthier brain activity.

This is why activities we typically enjoy aren’t satisfying when distracted. As an example, I usually love having my cat Freddie lying on my chest purring like a motor boat. Yet, I don’t get any enjoyment out of him if I’m focused elsewhere. It’s no wonder that so many of us feel unfulfilled – we have become addicted to splitting our attention. Perhaps the most common example is mindlessly browsing through the phone while in “conversation” with someone in person.

Truly, what makes “occupation,” therapy, is focus. Anything we do while distracted is essentially mundane and meaningless. On the other hand, even the most seemingly “mundane” activities like washing our hands or brushing our teeth become incredibly meaningful, purposeful, when we are truly focused in the present moment.

People often mistake what I do as something “alternative” or somehow not directly related to OT. Given this understanding, nothing could be further from the truth.

By incorporating the importance of self-awareness and attention into our treatment, we are addressing the core of why occupation is so effective. We are also teaching our clients to find incredible purpose in the seemingly most “meaningless” moments of life. I don’t know about you, but I can always benefit from a little more of that in my life.

Please check out my book The Clinical Success Formula which offers a practical approach for becoming more focused and purposeful in your life and practice.

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