Fieldwork Students Help Community Members Map Path to Independence

Master’s-level Washington University Occupational Therapy students, Jacqueline Crues and Logan Reeves, engaged in a unique dual-setting fieldwork rotation during the 2021 summer term. This multifold experience entailed delegating a portion of their fieldwork hours interning in a traditional clinical setting within the Washington University Occupational Therapy outpatient clinic, while the remaining time was allotted for the provision of services to community members diagnosed with various mental illnesses in alliance with the Independence Center of St. Louis, through a program called Map Your Path. While the center, located at 4245 Forest Park Avenue, provides a great deal of assistance and resources to its members, WUOT Director of Clinical Operations, Dr. Patricia Nellis, recognized the opportunity to illustrate the benefits of supplementing their approach with that of the occupational therapy lens.

While the grant-funded endeavor included more general OT services, under Dr. Nellis’ tutelage, Jackie and Logan most notably piloted the Washington University Occupational Therapy-developed Map Your Path to Well-Being program to Independence Center (IC) members onsite once weekly for seven weeks. The students were first tasked with modifying and updating the program, previously developed to address a senior population, to the more diverse demographics of IC members. They planned, developed, and co-led each session, each addressing components of habits and habit change and/or one of 6 key dimensions of well-being: meaningful activities, spirituality, positive emotions, relationships, physical health, and knowing yourself. Sessions included education, both in-session, and take-home exercises, and group discussions.

Overall, 8-12 diverse participants, ranging in age from ~25-85 years of age, attended the weekly sessions. Participants were encouraged to share their perspectives and experiences, with the goal of increasing the collective understanding of well-being and for providing tangible strategies for self-management and habit modification. An indirect but equally important goal was to foster social engagement and promote connectivity among participants.

Both Jackie and Logan reflect positively on their Independence Center groups experience:

“I believe the most innovative and appealing aspect of the Map Your Path program is its step-wise approach to habit change and its initial emphasis on identifying and attaining a layman’s understanding of the underlying mechanisms responsible for creating and perpetuating habits. It challenges participants’ development of insight into the ultimate outcomes of their habits—positive, negative, and neutral. That integral step of self-recognition not only produces the opportunity for accountability and action but also affords participants the basis for utilizing a strengths-based approach, capitalizing on their existent good habits to address the less productive ones. Not only are the techniques intuitive once learned, but they can also be used to address the full spectrum of well-being components. It provides a somewhat universal recipe for intentional habit change.

The group format was an especial joy to be a part of, as the diversity of perspectives flourished and fostered an atmosphere of collaboration, social support, and social learning—experiences often lacking for members of the Independence Center population. As facilitators, one might expect us to have been the experts, but the learning was consistently bi-directional. I am, without question, taking away every bit as much as I put in.”

Jacqueline Crues, MSOT/S

“Overall, I felt the program empowered participants to better manage their well-being through strategies we talked about in sessions. People often get stuck in the idea of well-being consisting of exercise, healthy diets, and ‘feeling happy’ which can make improving well-being a daunting task for people with chronic health conditions. We had a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments when talking about factors that participants didn’t realize had such a substantial effect on their well-being such as sleep, social participation, and spirituality. I think most people struggle to improve their well-being because the concept has been largely generalized when it’s almost completely subjective. Some participants found walks spiritual while others attended church. Some found listening to music meaningful while others enjoyed spending time with family. Map Your Path to Well-Being helped participants look at well-being from that perspective and gave them the tools and strategies to make an effectual change.”

Logan Reeves, MSOT/S

Learn more about the Independence Center…