Attention Occupational Therapists: Your Cities Need You

It’s Occupational Therapy Month again and I’m reflecting on how my training in OT is reflected in my life.

Over the past few years, I’ve become more and more involved in issues and initiatives related to the city of Edmonton. I’ve sat on the boards of Make Something Edmonton, an organization dedicated to improving the city’s image and reputation through promoting citizen engagement and community building, and REACH, a council initiative with the mission of making Edmonton a safer city. This past year, I also co-chaired the community well-being working group with the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty and I’ve helped out with an exciting council initiative that addresses Urban Isolation and Mental Health.

Throughout my different involvements, I attribute most of my contributions to the initiatives to the perspective that OT has given me. OT’s have an appreciation of wellness that is informed by training in both physical health and mental health. Furthermore, from the get go of our education, we are instilled with the appreciation of the impact of the environment on wellbeing. Whether it’s the Person-Environment-Occupation model, the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement, or the Kawa Model, the guiding models of practice for our profession acknowledge the importance of the environment on occupational engagement and performance.

In my opinion, cities and municipalities embody many of those “environments” we discuss in OT. The decisions made by municipal administrations affect the cultural, institutional, socioeconomic, physical, and social aspects of the environment and accordingly the wellbeing of the citizens that inhabit the city.

If it is the role of OT’s to enable the performance and engagement of meaningful activities, wouldn’t it make sense for us to help shape the cities we live in? More and more emphasis is being put on urban centres. The United Nations found that 54% of the world’s population lives in cities (as of 2014), and this number is only going to grow. Our voice as occupational therapists is, in my mind, extremely important as it pertains to city building.

Susan Mulholland previously wrote an article titled Why Urban Design Matters to Occupational Therapy, in which she states “the design of our cities can affect how we perform occupations”. Her article explores the impact of active transportation, land-use planning, and urban design on both mental and physical health.

Most recently, Bonnie Kirsh, a former professor and friend, gave the 2015 Muriel Driver Lecture on the importance of advocacy in our profession. She states “an important component of the advocacy process is building support through community development and coalition building”. This work of advocacy and community development is the lifeblood of cities.

You can choose how you want to get involved in your city. Maybe you lead a grass-roots community building initiative. Or perhaps, you apply for that city job that might fall out of your “scope” – but you make a compelling case for why a city should employ an occupational therapist. Or you take a stab at politics and run for the next city council election.

Whatever it is, you need to know just how important it is that you get involved with the affairs of your city. Municipal issues concern you as an occupational therapist.

You got into occupational therapy because you care about people. Because you want to make a meaningful impact. Because you are passionate about health. Well, I’m happy to say that there is a great opportunity to address all of these through engaging with your city. Get out there and show your city what occupational therapy is all about. Happy OT Month!

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