OT and spirituality? Why?

I want to take you down memory lane to me as an OT university student.

I so clearly remember discussing spirituality with my peers in university class. I had been really looking forward to exploring the role of OTs in spirituality. I remember the lecturer highlighting the extreme importance of discussing spirituality to ensure client centered practice.

Discussion broke out into how we could best do this. The most recurring themes were to connect our clients with their religious & cultural groups i.e. facilitate regular visitations to Church, Temple, Gurdwara, Masjid. The second recurring theme was to facilitate prayer and religious-specific rituals. The third most recurring them was to ensure cultural sensitivity in our interventions such as beng aware of man-woman touch for clients of specific religious backgrounds. I remember listening, waiting, and finally putting my hand up and asking the lecturer “What if the client wants to improve specifically on their spiritual journey?”

The look of confusion on her face made me instantly regret even having the question. She responded she had no idea what I was talking about, question was dismissed, and the previous discussion resumed. Many bread and butter OT interventions were suggested like graded exposure, utilizing support groups and so on, yet this curiosity stayed within me unanswered.

Unfortunately this topic was never visited again – I only had one class covering spirituality in the four years of study, despite it being at the core of COPM – E – one of our core treatment models.

I continued to explore my own personal spiritual journey alongside my OT studies, always comparing and creating my own models, theories, interventions for spirituality through an OT lens. I found this so enjoyable as an OT but also super helpful in furthering my own spirituality.

I thought I would always keep this part of life to myself, until I started to see the huge rise in the use of meditation and mindfulness in OT practices.

I was quite stung that ‘filtered’ spirituality was acceptable and being promoted within OT, whilst genuine, deep spiritual unlearning was still seen as taboo and out of OT scope.

While working with clients with mental health difficulties, it became so crystal clear to me that spiritual interventions are truly needed and within our roles as OT. I started nutting down on my airy fairy concepts. I realized that spirituality within OT is not as ‘fluffy’ as I initially thought. By simplifying, I realized spirituality could be very practical and rational, as a real field within the scope of Occupational Therapy.

My original question “what if the client wants to improve specifically on their spiritual journey?” become answerable. I realized my university lecturer had tried to teach us about a topic she herself did not know enough about. I realized we had so much knowledge of various physical and mental health treatments, yet when it came to spirituality it was as if just using the word ‘mindfulness’ would be enough. To my core, I felt that as a profession we could do better.

I started to have conversations with young adults seeking spiritual interventions like meditation but feeling even MORE defeated afterwards. Clearly as a profession, we were lacking and trying to use new trends of mindfulness, yoga and meditation as band-aids without seeing the harm these interventions were also potentially causing to such vulnerable populations.

It is after many, many instances like this that I found the spark in me to start sharing my spiritual knowledge as an OT. To not only share the great benefits of spirituality, but also shed light on the risks and things to look out for within spiritual therapy.