Experiencing occupational disruption as an OT student

Hello everyone!

For this month’s blog I decided to talk about one of the most common phenomena we, OT’s, encounter during both our studies and clinical practices: occupational disruption. Even though most of you might be familiar with this term I shall briefly go through the literature so we can all be on the same page:

Occupation is proven to be a crucial factor when it comes to living a fulfilling life and having prosperity (Hammel 2004, OTA 2016, WFOT 2017). Most of the times it is not the “rich” environment of the occupation that can make a person happy but the meaning they give the occupation and how qualitative they believe it is (Hammel 2004). Thus, as Whiteford stresses, not being able to execute meaningful and quality occupations can have a negative impact on one’s health (Whiteford 2000). Occupational disruption is the exact situation where someone is not given the chance to participate in any such occupation for a finite amount of time (Whiteford 2000), which usually leads to the individual not being able to live its life to the fullest and be entirely happy.

Having experienced occupational disruption due to COVID-19 and knowing that most of you have too, made me want to see how you perceived this whole devastating situation and how your occupational lence might have helped you through quarantine. So I reached out to you in the hope that you would like to express and share your experiences, and you did! Students around Europe corresponded to my calling and here is what they wanted to share.

Students’ experiences

Ana Gaspar

We all know how badly this pandemic affects the world. Almost everyone got affected somehow. I’m fortunate that neither me nor anyone else I know got sick and I’m thankful for that! One thing that changed was my routine. I had to stop attending classes at my school and started to take them online. I was not prepared for what was coming. Although I was physically ok, the fact that I had to stay home, spending my days at my desk, doing school work all day, got me at a not so good mental state. To make things worse, my fieldwork got canceled and I was so excited for that one because I would have gotten to stay near home and on top of that, I would practice on my favorite setting. Everything I planned for my third year of OT school, was crumbling. As soon as I started to realize I was not ok, I tried to create my own routine at home, trying to avoid the excessive time I was spending siting at my desk. I even experimented meditation to help me escape the brutal reality we were (and still are) living. I’m thankful to OT school for providing me with knowledge and tools to realize that I was not ok and what I needed to do to feel better. Some days were better than others but that is ok. That’s life isn’t it? I’ve learn to take a day at a time and to not anticipate way too much. Prioritize the present and enjoy the little things of each day.

Charis Pavlidi

During quarantine the part of my life that I missed the most was hanging out with my friends. I used to go out every Saturday night and spend my time having fun and relaxing but having been locked inside my house that occupation was prohibited. For some staying home might have been a comfortable situation but for me it was quite the opposite since we are a family of six people. Even the smallest occupation can be a getaway for me. But it only got worse once a close relative of mine was diagnosed with a severe disease and I had more than enough roles to occupy me daily, so I figured that I had to change the way I was executing tasks and technically living so I could feel more prosperous. Even though this quarantine was a difficult and limiting situation I sure had some useful tools to help me throughout my day. The most important of which was technology. I was able to keep in touch with both my friends and college and attend my classes online. Once I started analyzing my day based on my occupational knowledge I figured that my free time was plenty and ready to be taken advantage of, so I started some new occupations that would add to my happiness. Those were beautification, cooking, walking in nature etc. Through this experience and thanks to occupational therapy I am now able to be thankful for what I once took for granted and to find solutions more easily to most of my difficulties.

Martyna Gwiazda

Currently everyone is being affected by the lockdown on a daily basis that even the iADL model has changed to match the limited possibilities available at the moment. I personally believe that occupations categorized as leasure have been affected the most due to the closure of most city and entertainment centers. For these past months people were depended on limited activities or available TV channels for their entairtainment, since one could only interact with their closest relatives. The situation was only getting harder for people living alone, especially the elderly who, sometimes, could not fulfill their most basic needs and were totally dependent on others. Due to being quarantined I got to experience how it feels like to live dependent, patient and only allowed to follow another person’s instructions. This has been a valuable lesson that I will embed to my occupational approach and practice. It might not have been great to not know what the next day will bring but it sure was an experience I would not want to forget.

Florida Ilazaj

This year will surely leave its scar since COVID-19 left thousands of people quarantined, jobless or even grieving a loved one. Even though being quarantined was not the most serious wound this virus brought on us it definitely led to occupational deprivation and enormous changes in our daily living. Some people took the opportunity to exploit the free time given by this situation by starting a new hobby. I, on the other hand, was not one of them. Being in my last year of studies I had more than enough worries to occupy me long before the lockdown and having to attend online classes added more to it. On the other hand I got to go back to my home town, a place more comfortable for me. Being in Aegina, Greece, I was not feeling extremely isolated since one cannot possibly feel “trapped” when on an island. Given this opportunity one can easily start a new hobby closer to nature and spend less time dependent on technology and social media, a path that I took. Now from an occupational therapist’s perspective I definitely felt the occupational disruption up to a point. But that did not bring me down for I found new ways of doing things and feeling better, one of which was working out with my sister outside. Not only did I feel less stressed with the passage of time but I bonded with her as well.

Anna Seidi

During quarantine I had to stop going to my university and we did our classes online just like everyone else. Because of that I had to deal with two problems. The first one was that I couldn’t do my studies the way I wanted to which is one of the most important things in my life right now and the second one was that as much as I tried I could not concentrate on the lesson which means that it was much harder to do my assignments and follow through. Also I am a person that really enjoys being around people. So if we see it from an occupational therapy perspective I did somehow experience occupational disruption. I experienced it both socially and productively so I had to adapt to my new daily life by learning something new or finding other activities that would keep me active during my day. But other than that when the time came to do my assignments I challenged myself to try and still do my best besides the circumstances.

Farewell message

I hope that by sharing their experiences, these students and OTs reached out to you and helped you feel less alone. If you wish to share your quarantine experience please feel free to email me at: bl*****@sp********.eu

Lastly I wanted to share with you that OTA has made a helpful OT guide for COVID-19 which includes a lot of solutions to some of the difficulties mentioned above. You can find it by clicking on this link: https://otaus.com.au/publicassets/af469002-6f6a-ea11-9404-005056be13b5/OT%20Guide%20COVID-19%20March%202020.pdf


HAMMEL, K. W., 2004. Dimensions of meaning in the occupations of daily life. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY. December, vol. 71, no. 5, pp. 4-6.

Occupational Therapy Australia, 2016. OT AUSTRALIA Position Statement: Occupational Deprivation. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal [online]. October, p. 2 [Viewed 25th September 2020]. DOI: 10.1111/1440-1630.12347

WFOT Member Organizations, 2017. Definition of Occupational Therapy. World Federation of Occupational Therapists [online]. June, p. 4 [Viewed 25th September 2020]. Available at: https://www.wfot.org/about/about-occupational-therapy

WHITEFORD, G., 2000. Occupational Deprivation: Global Challenge in the New Millennium. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. May, vol. 63, no.5, pp 1-4.

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