Occupational therapy and my unexpected hobby

“Finishing my occupational therapy degree was not the most important thing that happened to me last year.” Perhaps not the best opening line to use at my first professional job interview, but I stick by what I said.

Last year I took up piano lessons, which turned out to be the most valuable learning curve during 2016. This was something that I had wanted to do for years, however only recently had I plucked up the courage to become an adult beginner – which was slightly terrifying for me.

I like to think that my lecturers at UQ would not have been disheartened by my claim because the piano lessons proved to me exactly why occupational therapists are so crucial in our community. My love of practising and wanting to improve really showed to me how important it is for individuals to have the freedom and physical ability to follow our passions, hobbies, and daily tasks. This is exactly what underpins the core value of what we as occupational therapists strive to achieve through our profession.

For me, the significance I place on my weekly piano lessons is a reflection of what I learnt as an occupational therapy student. The activities each of us participate in on a regular basis express who we are. I learnt, as an occupational therapist that we have the opportunity to help our clients participate in activities that are uniquely important to them. By working together, we can draw on their strengths to overcome barriers and help them create meaning and purpose in their everyday lives.

To be honest, when I first started my degree I assumed that studying occupational therapy meant I would basically be a physiotherapist with a more confusing title. However, within a few short weeks, I realised I was training in exactly the right profession.

When I graduated, I had a wealth of theoretical knowledge (primarily in the form of frameworks, definitions and models) and a growing body of clinical experience. I have countless memories from my two years studying my Masters, but there is one in particular that encapsulates what I love about this profession.

Last year, I was on a ten-week placement at a rural hospital, where a key component of my role was working with adults undergoing rehabilitation following a stroke. Together, we set goals and worked towards re-engaging in the activities they found important. In a hospital this can be challenging, we tried to find ways to simulate a home environment to practise cooking and a supermarket environment to practise shopping. One of my older clients was experiencing a homonymous hemianopia following his stroke - in other words, he could not see anything in his left field of vision. While talking to him, I found out that he was a musician and playing piano was extremely important to him.

His hemianopia presented many challenges for piano playing as it meant that he would often read only the right side of the sheet music (which lead to some abstract interpretations of classic songs) and he was prone to ignoring the left half of the piano. We worked together with my supervisor and developed strategies to support his playing. For example, by drawing a line with a coloured highlighter on the left side of the page, he found it easier to remember to scan all the way to the left before reading the next line of his music.

On the ward, we were lucky to have an electric piano in the dining room and each day we would practise just before lunch. When he was playing, we would often have nursing staff stop by the room simply to watch and listen as he played and sung. After we finished our sessions together, I would often walk past the dining room to see him still playing 20 minutes later, still surrounded by a small crowd. He expressed how much it meant to him to be able to do something 'normal’ after such a challenging event, not to mention the effect that his playing had on the collective mood in our ward. It clearly had an effect on me too, as here I am a year later on my own piano journey.

Last updated:
29 March 2017