Meet POTAC’s 2022 Scholarship awardees, and learn about their mental health OT experiences.
Kim Aspelund Scholarship
Lex Acuna, OTD/S ’23
University of the Pacific
“I completed my level 1 fieldwork site at a behavioral health inpatient care unit for veterans in Mather, CA. Occupational therapy is based on a holistic approach, which views each client through various facets that make up who they are and wish to become. Completing my fieldwork within a mental health care unit allowed me to capitalize on and hone in on the veterans’ minds and bodies. Though the average stay was around five days, I delegated group therapies encouraging leisure exploration, isometric exercise, Qigong, social interaction, and skills training to promote function, health, and spirituality. The veterans on my caseload were primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, and depression.
One patient I hold dear to my heart is an older woman with schizophrenia and the onset of dementia. She was a rare case as her hold was extended in the care unit due to her inability to care for herself, both physically and cognitively. No matter her mood, whether upset or in pain, she joined my therapy groups to talk as she enjoyed the company as it was meaningful to her. I utilized the therapeutic use of occupations such as coloring, collaging, and playing card games to bring meaning to her life. Though it may sound as simple as interaction, it made the difference for her as it was a time of the day that she looked forward to. Everyone deserves to enjoy and function in life, regardless of their condition. What my fieldwork experience taught me is that every little thing counts. This experience has encouraged me to pursue a future career in mental health so that I can give back in any way I can that is purposeful to the client.”
Christine Villalobos, OTD Candidate
University of Southern California
“I have completed a 2nd Level II Fieldwork experience at St. Anne’s, a short term residential treatment program, working with foster youth and young teen mothers with ties to homelessness, the juvenile court, and/or incarceration. As a result of the intersecting violence created by poverty, unstable housing, racism, sexism, changing family environments, and unforgettable bodily traumas, the teens ages 13-19 at St. Anne’s exhibited various needs for support including self-regulation, positive coping skills, healthy routines, socialization, and planning for the future, as many of the clients were mothers or soon to be mothers themselves
I additionally completed a 3rd Level II Fieldwork at St. Joseph Center serving families in Los Angeles that have experienced homelessness and an OTD residency at Downtown Women’s Center supporting formerly unhoused womyn. These experiences enabled me to develop a more nuanced understanding of how to best support the mental health and emotional safety of individuals facing acute and chronic deterioration of their occupational performances and mental health.
Working with unhoused neighbors has helped me connect how the political, economic and social determinants of health truly affect the mental health and well-being of every person in our world. Becoming an occupational therapist that specializes in mental health will allow me to contribute to building a better world where individuals with varying talents and abilities can contribute to improving their quality of life and society as a whole. As a future occupational therapist in the unhoused sector, I hope to challenge the systems that have brought individuals into becoming unhoused. I hope to also disseminate trauma-informed care strategies to individuals that provide services to neighbors that are negotiating the transition from being chronically unhoused to housed, addressing the various ongoing traumas and violence that unhoused neighbors face.”
Ann MacRae Scholarship
Christina Lavery OTR/L, FWE
Urban Street Angels
“When I was an OT student, I recall telling my fieldwork coordinator that they could send me anywhere in the country for fieldwork, if that meant I got to do one of my fieldworks in mental health. This was when I was introduced to mental health occupational therapy for the first time. I did my level IIA fieldwork in an inpatient psychiatric unit at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, CA. This setting solidified my passion for mental health occupational therapy, but also made me nervous to be introduced to my next setting for fieldwork, outpatient pediatrics.
During this time, COVID rapidly spread throughout the country, and for a lot of OT students, it derailed the path to completing fieldwork and graduating from school. I happened to be one of the students this affected, which meant that I no longer had my IIB placement in outpatient pediatrics, and I had to patiently wait for another opportunity to arise in the midst of COVID. Luckily, an opportunity emerged at Urban Street Angels, a community-based mental health and role-emerging setting with homeless youth in downtown San Diego, and I jumped at the chance to have another fieldwork in mental health.
During the 12 weeks I spent at Urban Street Angels, my life changed in a number of ways. I was working in a setting where I was learning just as much from the youth as they were learning from me. I got to explore every domain of OT, which challenged me to be more creative than I have ever been before. I got to see youth come into a program at their lowest and leave at their highest, which OT always played a huge part of. On my last day of fieldwork, the last thing I said to the staff there was, “If Urban Street Angels ever gets the funding to have an OT as part of the team, then I will drop everything to come back and work here”. About a year and a half later, working at Urban Street Angels became a reality, and I dropped everything I was doing to come back. Since then, I have been working at Urban Street Angels for almost two years.
From my time as a student to present day, I have gotten the chance to see the OT program expand, grow, and develop into the program that was envisioned when I was a student. As the current Director of Occupational Therapy at Urban Street Angels, I’ve had the privilege to run group and individual OT sessions, advocate for my clients, the profession, and for OT within the organization, and give back to the profession by being a fieldwork educator in this setting. I have learned so much about occupational therapy by working in this setting, but I have also learned so much about myself. I learned that having my own lived experience with mental health difficulties is a strength, not a weakness, and it has allowed me to bring a different perspective to my work that I cannot provide in other settings. It is with great hope that I can continue this journey as a mental health OT for years to come, and continue to share my knowledge and passion for this role-emerging practice setting.”