My friend Stevie made the sock monkey – a placid purple chap with chubby limbs and buttons for eyes. He seemed pretty satisfied with existence, but his deeper woes had gone unseen.
It turned out that the sock monkey was cursed to live forever, and as the centuries rolled by, he was succumbing to despair. Two students from the Occupational Therapy course at Australia’s Griffith University decided to help, using their professional skills to explore ways of reconciling him to a happier immortality.
The sock monkey was one of many toys I took to Orientation Week at Griffith, helping around 50 new undergraduates get to grips with life as a student in the School of Allied Health. I asked the students to create fantastical case studies for Transformers robots, cuddly toys, and other playthings – and then come up with ways to respond using the skills and worldview of an occupational therapist. I won’t even get into what happened with the superhero banana.
Activities like these, and others which used comics, play, and visions of the distant future, helped Griffith’s new intake of student therapists to think about their careers, their upcoming university experience, and the “big picture” questions of their chosen profession.
Toys, cartoons, and playful interactions provided a safe space to explore questions of ethics and professional identity – as well as tying in with the State Library of Queensland’s current Digital Futures theme.
My friend Amy helped us out by baking a colourful, complex cake – a representation of the CMOP-E, a Canadian model of occupational performance and engagement. This model can be difficult to grasp, so I arranged for the student therapists to physically consume it in cake form on the third day of their university studies.
Following in Amy’s footsteps, we then set students the task of workshopping therapists’ professional values – with the additional challenge of presenting their findings in edible form, using cakes, crackers, biscuits and icing.
Allied health professionals often work outside of institutional settings, engaging directly with the community, taking on the messy and rewarding task of helping people to improve their health and wellbeing in the ever-complicated real world. Occupational therapists (OTs), in particular, focus on helping clients with the everyday activities they want, need, and have to do – so OTs must be versatile, adaptable, and imaginative.
This week’s playful tasks, embracing creative problem solving, holistic thinking, and material play, ensured that Griffith’s student therapists started their learning journey focussed on the wondrous adventures and worthy challenges which lay ahead of them – to graduation and beyond.
You can see more from Griffith Occupational Therapy’s 2017 orientation week on YouTube: