Innovative OTA Instills Hope for Mental Health Patients
Brittany Crockett was working three jobs to pay her bills; her mother needed surgery, and she was helping to put her younger sister through cosmetology school. One day, in between the hustle and bustle of counting tips and counting down the hours until her next shift, she sat down in her car to rest her feet for just a moment.
Tired yet tenacious, Brittany tilted her head back, took a deep breath in the driver’s seat, and thought, “I don’t want to keep working meaningless jobs. I want to dedicate my life to making a difference, and I want to do something about this before life goes on without me. I want a career.”
As if a sign from her subconscious, Brittany immediately heard a commercial for Goodwin University over the radio. She swiftly leaned in, turned up the volume, and listened attentively.
Less than a week later, Brittany signed up to start her associate degree as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. She would soon begin learning the skills to help patients live independent, satisfying lives.
The first in her family to attend college, Brittany was initially afraid that she wouldn’t be up to date with the latest technology, and she had some trepidations about starting school as an adult learner.
“Coming into this program, I thought, ‘Everyone is going to think I’m a fraud, I’m going to fail, I can’t do this, [and] what am I doing going back to school after this many years…’” she admitted.
But Brittany persisted, and in her perseverance, she achieved the academic distinction of making Goodwin University’s Dean’s List almost every semester.
“I have confidence in myself thanks to the OTA program,” Brittany credited, “It’s been completely life-changing.”
A flexible foundation for the future
“Goodwin made it easy to better myself,” Brittany recognized. “The OTA program is very flexible. I worked six days a week while enrolled and went to school in the evening.
“I’ve also never experienced educators who are so fully committed to each and every one of their students. At Goodwin, patient instructors answered every question students asked, and they provided us with the tools that we needed to succeed.”
Then, a couple of months into starting her new career path, the global Coronavirus pandemic hit, and all classes moved immediately online.
“Goodwin professors were adaptable, and that was extremely difficult to do this past year,” Brittany acknowledged. “They created virtual classroom environments where we all felt safe. They instantly had programs ready to go, and the teachers worked hard to keep it just as engaging as it was in class.
“I never really took online courses before, and during the pandemic, Goodwin and the OTA program didn’t skip a beat,” she shared. “They created beautiful PowerPoints, conducted poll surveys, demonstrated things for us online, and really brought the curriculum home for us. You didn’t want to miss class, and you wanted to log in and be there.”
As a virtual exercise to teach students how to monitor patients’ heart rates, learners were assigned into groups and asked to track their heart rate before, during, and after a brief workout to evaluate their range. Some students did jumping jacks while others ran around their houses, cheering one another on through computer screens. “It really stuck,” Brittany assured, “I will remember that forever! Instead of just talking about it, our instructors found a way for us to do it ourselves at home, in our environment — and that’s what a lot of OTA is, meeting the patient where they’re at and finding a way to get them engaged and focused.”
OTA makes a profound impact on mental health patients
While many OTA tracks focus on geriatric or pediatric populations, Brittany’s concentration is holistic mental health practices.
Occupational therapy interlaces with mental health initiatives through coping skills and emotional, sensory, and social regulation. Occupational therapy practitioners and OTAs can help various patient diagnoses from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Those trained in occupational therapy can help clients get through anxious fight-or-flight moments with meditation. They can also teach patients yoga sequences for anxiety-induced body tension and muscle cramps.
“Coming out of this lockdown and emerging from this pandemic, people now realize that mental health is much more entwined into their everyday lives, and I hope there will be less of a stigma moving forward. There aren’t too many OTAs in mental health, and I’m hoping to kick open that door and start an influx — they need us,” Brittany emphasized.
“One of the main reasons I’m going into mental health as an OTA is because you don’t see many brown people in the mental health field. My mother is white, and my father is Jamaican and Cuban, and I hope to inspire more people to feel comfortable talking to a diverse workforce. Many people with mental health concerns can fall through the cracks, and I want to help stop that. OTAs can do anything and everything — it’s client-driven, and it’s all about getting them back to their daily lives and interests.”
Brittany began her field placement at an addiction and recovery center. As soon as she received her assignment, Brittany was nervous about starting. “I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she readily disclosed. “But it’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. The OT field is so creative, and it truly impacts all it touches.”
As a part of her practicum, Brittany creates activities that adapt to her clients, and through rapport, builds their trust for individualized results. While practicing her OTA skills, Brittany created random dance break sessions to help group patients get loose and let their guard down. During her inventive training, she also crafted a coping corn hole game with different categories for each net, including self-esteem encouragements like “give me three positive affirmations about yourself.”
“I have a client who has schizophrenia, and his hands shake due to his medications,” Brittany expressed. “We played a giant game of Jenga the other day to help him control his movements. We worked on his balance and gross and fine motor skills. The game went on for 30 minutes and went from the table to the ceiling,” she described with pride.
A life-changing learning experience
Sixteen months ago, when Brittany thought about earning her degree, “I didn’t think it was going to be me; I didn’t think it was going to happen,” she revealed.
“But OTA really changed my entire life. This program has given me a whole new meaning and a whole new purpose. I love that I get to help people get back to their occupations and activities of daily living; these are the things that most people take for granted, and we’re there to help patients along the way, teach them new skills, and encourage them. It’s a hands-on career that supports adaptability and creativity — and that’s what drew me to it most.
“Since coming to Goodwin, things are different for me now — my work ethic is different and my priorities. I use the coping skills we learned in class in my everyday life, and I’m much more at peace, mindful, and I’m more aware of myself and others. I’m a completely different person from when I started.”
“I’m stoked to frame my degree, put it on the wall, take pictures and send them to everybody,” Brittany beamed. “I’m probably going to wear my graduation outfit for a week.”
Brittany graduated with her OTA degree in early May 2021.
Reflecting on the defining moment in her car when she decided to seek a career that could help others, “I wanted to be someone,” Brittany recalled.
“Now, I am going to be someone — and with Goodwin, you can make it happen.”
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Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.