Author: Lauren Walker, professional adviser, Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapy was a second career for me. I had an arts background and my first degree was in drama. I really did think I’d be a famous actor at one time!
I did a few jobs after graduating, including working in theatre administration, but I really enjoyed performing and connecting with people.
I also have a family member with learning difficulties and through him I met others with disabilities. I realised that many of them didn’t get the support they needed and I began thinking that I could use my performance skills in a therapeutic way.
When I found occupational therapy it felt like a perfect fit. I was using those communication skills I’d learned in drama and I was able to help people in a very practical way.
I thought I would work in mental health using drama as a therapeutic tool. But my training exposed me to so many different practice settings that it opened my mind to a range of possibilities. I discovered my communication and performance skills were useful in every single setting.
I did a placement with a council in London helping people with disabilities be independent in their own homes. It was such a privilege to be invited into their homes - that personal space where everyone wants to feel safe, comfortable and autonomous.
It felt really important work so after I qualified I worked in a housing role. I worked with planners, architects and builders. I would put on the high-viz clothing and hard hat to go out on building inspections and comment on the accessibility of plans and designs. I obtained a whole new skillset - things like being able to read architectural plans.
There was a sense of legacy to the work that I loved - I felt honoured to be involved in designing and creating better homes for people that would last for generations. I can still drive round South London and see houses I helped design and know those houses will be there long after I’m gone.
Then I did a bit of a sideways move working with the London Fire Brigade and the NHS to deliver a community health project. It was a more strategic role; organising home visits to help vulnerable people identify fire risks around the home and teach them ways to be safe.
Three years later I moved into my current role as a professional adviser at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). Here I’m helping other OTs, acting as a bridge between policy makers and frontline OTs.
It’s not been a traditional career but it’s been the right fit for me. Although if you had told me when I started training what my career trajectory would be then I admit I probably would have laughed in your face.
It’s made me incredibly passionate about the value of the OT role and how it can combine with other skills from previous careers. I use the communication skills I learnt in drama every single day. But the skills you learn as an OT can also be used in a whole range of settings and careers.
I know someone who is using their OT skills to make sport and physical activity as inclusive as possible. She set up her own business and is working with leisure centres and gyms. I know of another OT who used their skills learnt working in hoarding services to create a business helping people organise their lives.
That’s the real joy of Occupational Therapy. We all come into it from really different backgrounds and with different skill sets. There’s no such thing as a typical OT in my opinion and that’s a good thing!