Professionalism and Fear: feeling like an OT more than ever

I was inspired to write this posting after I coached an OT this morning, who I have been working with since January this year. She is a fabulous OT who I thoroughly enjoy working with, and we had more of a mentoring session today, rather than a coaching session.  As ever, I always learn about myself and my process when I work with others – that’s one reason why coaching is such a powerful process for all involved and such a lovely way to work.

We were discussing CPD and needing to keep professional standards and competencies, especially when working in different and non-traditional roles.  I have been to several OT events in recent years which have left me quite scared and anxious about the career path I am choosing. I “am” an Occupational Therapist but I don’t have a “job” which says that.  I use my OT skills every day, but much of my CPD is in related fields e.g. coaching, vocational rehabilitation, creativity and personal development.

I work with people on a daily basis in various ways, helping them to engage in occupations that are more meaningful, more in line with their strengths and values. I use creative activities and coaching to help people engage and participate in ways they haven’t before.  I enable change in people, helping them move to self empowerment and greater awareness in their choices of occupation and daily activities.  I have never felt more an OT than I do now – so why do I feel so scared? Why do I feel that at any second, this big finger will point from the sky saying “you are not a proper OT!”

Several factors seem to have contributed to this. This just how it is for me, but I imagine that some of this may be familiar.

Professional registration:
Ever since we have had to demonstrate our CPD and been open to audit by the HPC, I think this implanted a seed of anxiety. For years I kept saying “oh gosh, I’ve got to keep my portfolio up to date or I’ll be struck off!” well yes I do have an up to date portfolio (relatively up to date!) and yes if called, it would be fine, but there is so much scare mongering.  I have been to meetings which have featured dreadful stories and  I have left feeling really low and sick with worry — yes I know that sounds like I’m being a drama queen.

Our striving to be recognised as a grown up, accepted profession:
I remember the Blom Cooper report about 20 odd years ago. I remember OT being talked about as an emerging profession. I have seen us strive to be research led and be on  a par with doctors and other health professionals.  In wanting to be more “professional” I feel that there are only certain parts of me, of what I do, that I want to reveal, in case I am seen as unprofessional.  Much of our identity, our accepted, understood identity is immersed in the medical model. We have worked hard to be understood in health and social care, but, I feel, at the expense of all that it means to be an OT. “oh you help people get out of hospital” “oh you give disabled people equipment” “oh you do something to do with toilets”.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not undervaluing regular OT. I know there are many, many OT’s working in many other ways, but it feels like there is a separation going on: those who work in “normal OT” and those who are doing it differently (often in ways that early OTs worked!).

I don’t often feel I can be completely me, I often feel like an imposter:
Its not about being unprofessional – its about what I include in my professional activities, what I feel is my identity.  If any activity (occupation) can be used as a medium for change (therapy), does anything go?  I am an artist as you know. I run another business called Discovery Party, which would seem  completely unrelated to OT but at its heart, is about social inclusion, empowerment and wellbeing but for people like you and me.  Even becoming a Life Coach threatened some professional colleagues.  Oh and I also write on toast.

I know I am taking a risk bearing my soul, but I am meeting more and more OT’s that are daring to be different and like me are remembering the core philosophy of OT in their “different” way of working.

As a profession, are we being fully inclusive to our fellow OT’s? Do we feel able to talk open and authentically about the work we do or the work we want to do?  Are we willing to put a resonant, creative relationship at the heart of our work, even if it means we run the risk of not meeting our targets or fitting the mould at work?  Will we support newly or recently qualified OT’s to work independently or develop new roles, rather than make them “do their time “ first?

OK. Enough said. I step of my soap box now and return to my studio to burn inspirational words into toast, hoping that not too many of you hit unsubscribe…:)

Written with hope and love for my profession.