Preventing Occupational Therapy Burnout in the Face of COVID-19

“Whoah, I need another shower, I think” as I take off my PPE for the fifth time today, and know I will have to don and doff it all at least five more times before the day is over. I am sweating, the protective gowns don’t let me body circulate air, and my N-95 mask and face shield have fogged everything up so that I cannot see after I have just finished aiding one of my OT clients with a shower. For essential healthcare employees, the masks, gowns, and face shields have become a part of our everyday attire, almost as if we are sporting new fashion-ware. However, we know it is essential for our clients, especially working with the vulnerable populations. We live in a constant worry that we might bring COVID-19 back to our families, or worse yet, bring it to one of our residents who may not be healthy enough to fight it off. Yet, we soldier on through the day, giving our clients the best possible care, providing out of the box treatments since we can no longer utilize the equipment in the gym, and hoping and praying we are doing justice by our clients. 

As Occupational Therapists and Therapy Assistants, we are tired and stressed out. Since the majority of our treatments have now been limited to the client’s rooms (if in an adult setting), or maybe telehealth sessions or one-to-one settings (working with pediatrics) treatments are becoming monotonous and rather difficult. The clients are often bored with the treatments, as are we, and we feel stuck. In my skilled nursing facility, we are currently unable to bring anyone to the gym, or even bring equipment out of the gym to treat clients. This means the focus is on Activities of Daily Living activities or maybe functional mobility, which is great, as it is part of an OT’s job, but also, very much limits what else may need to be addressed. For instance, a client may need to increase their upper body strength, or need necessary equipment such as parallel bars for initial transfers or movements. As OTs we are having to be extra creative and rather diligent.

So that poses the question, how do we keep from being burnt out, and keep our clients from being burnt out and no longer wanting to participate in therapy? 

It is a rather tricky situation, and we must do our due diligence in providing treatments. One thing we can do is mix it up. For instance, one day we have the client work on transfers and functional mobility while the next day the focus is on activities of daily living. We go back to our basic routes and skills and find the client’s interests. If a client enjoys gardening, we may be able to bring a small flower pot and seeds and a little dirt into their rooms, so they can keep it, while we still address several skills including sequencing, fine motor skills, and processing. If their hobby is knitting we may ask a family member to bring their knitting materials and set it up in ways the client is still building on their skills. With children, we may need to get the parents involved, and provide lots of education.  The best thing we can do for the pediatric population is help the parents help the children to facilitate independence and functional family dynamics. It is also important to use materials the clients may have available with children, and even in client’s rooms in adult settings.  

As Occupational Therapy practitioners, it is our job to incorporate everyday things and help our clients get back to their best selves. It can be so easy to get burned out during these very trying times as both the practitioner and patient with limited resources. However, if we utilize the client’s strengths and even their hobbies to incorporate into treatments we may find that not only are the clients enjoying their therapy, but we are enjoying being therapists again and loving what we do. 

Author: Terissa Curtis

Bio: My Name is Terissa Curtis and I am a COTA and studying for a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Horses, helping people and occupational therapy are my life.

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