This is a summary of an educational project I am implementing in a health promotion course for OT students. I am really interested in how to best prepare our students to “do OT differently!” This project involves teaching empowerment through coaching strategies. The students will experience coaching for self-assessment, learn a few tools from motivational interviewing and coaching, and practice them in a community setting. I am eager to see how this experience resonates with them in terms of their confidence to work more in health promotion and to utilize coaching as a strategy for health behavior modification.

Occupational therapy (OT) education is an important part of creating healthcare professionals that are ready to meet the health needs of our society. In order to create meaningful learning that translates into clinical practice, OT curricula needs to investigate the use of innovative models. Experiential learning means students have the opportunity to practice what they learn in a very real and active way. This project has been developed to offer occupational therapy students the chance to learn about wellness programming and coaching strategies, as well as have an opportunity to practice these learned skills in a community setting. One of the ways in which OT can help people stay healthy is by assisting them in understanding how the activities of each day make an impact on their health. This is especially important for older adults, as sometimes we tend to give up activities as we age. The Well Elderly Program is a well-established program that can help older adults to stay active and healthy. Students will have the chance to teach this program to a community group of older adults as part of a graduate course experience.

It is important to teach people about activity and health, but it is also important to help them make the changes they desire. One important way to help people achieve healthier living is to coach them toward their goals. Occupational therapy students will be taught coaching strategies in the classroom and they will have the chance to use them as part of this project. The students will present three group sessions of the Well Elderly Program and they will meet with one older adult and use coaching methods to help them set a goal and move toward that goal.

Finally, the students will be asked to reflect on this experience; how their abilities have changed and how their feelings about wellness programming and coaching have changed. This project will allow OT students to experience teaching and coaching in a community of older adults and may help them to feel more confident about doing this kind of work as they enter their careers.

Erin Phillips is Assistant Professor of occupational therapy at St. Ambrose University. She received her Master of Science in OT from Washington University and will complete this project as a post-professional doctoral student at St. Catherine University. Her research and practice interests are in the areas of health promotion, yoga, and coaching strategies as potential links to primary care services.

Mandel, D., Jackson, J., Zemke, R., Nelson, L., & Clark, F. (1999). Lifestyle Redesign: Implementing the Well Elderly Program. Bethesda, MD: AOTA Press.