For the past semester, the junior occupational therapy students have been doing psychology fieldwork within the Erie community. To the non-health science readers out there, fieldwork is basically applying what you learn in class to real life. The OTs have three fieldwork experiences: psych OT fieldwork that you complete your junior year, level one field work that you complete during your senior year and the big mama level two fieldwork you complete when you’re a fifth year grad student.
For now, I’m completing my psych OT fieldwork. Four other students and I were assigned to lead group activities at the Mental Health Association of Northwest Pennsylvania. To say this was a unique experience would be an understatement.
The first day on the job was slightly overwhelming. We met our supervisor, Rita, and she laid out the rules of the establishment. One of the cool things about MHA is that all the staff are diagnosed with a mental illness as well. This way, it’s easier for members to connect with the staff. However, students aren’t allowed to outright ask anyone about their individual diagnosis. Rita listed off a couple of other rules and then she gave us a tour of the building.
After the tour, we were on our own. We tried socializing with some of the members in the open rec area, but they didn’t seem like they wanted to talk to us. Defeated, us students gathered by the ping pong table and tried to strategize. After what seemed like an uncomfortably long amount of time, one of the members noticed our distress and reluctantly invited us over to the pool table to play billiards with him. This act sort of broke the ice and made other members realize we were to be trusted. Plus, everyone really liked to play us in pool because we were all so bad at it.
After that encounter, fieldwork definitely wasn’t as awkward. Now, we have a set routine with the members and they actually enjoy us coming every week. We arrive at MHA, sit down at a table and read horoscopes out loud. Then, we move upstairs to do an activity. After that is lunch, another activity, and finally, more free time to do puzzles or play games. Each week, more and more members show up to our group activities. Sometimes, they even bring their friends. The more I see people participating in group activities, the more I feel like I’m making a difference. I think the most successful activity we’ve planned so far has been a cornhole tournament. Not surprisingly, the OT students lost.
One of the nicest things a member has ever said to me during fieldwork was, “I love when the OT students come in. I look forward to it every year!” It feels like I’m actually making a difference and helping people. It might just seem like fun and games to outsiders, but if I’m able to make somebody’s day a little bit better, I feel like I accomplished something as an occupational therapy student.