“Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and terminal disorder”

From the Perspective of a VCU Occupational Therapy Doctoral Student at REAL Life:

I am so thankful to have spent the last 14 weeks of my journey as an Occupational Therapy (OT) student from VCU at the REAL LIFE Community Center. After 2 years of full time academics, and level II fieldwork placements in psychiatry and spinal cord injury, my Doctoral Experiential Component was primarily spent leading psychosocial skill building groups for REAL LIFE clients.

Occupational Therapists work with people who have an injury, illness or disability to facilitate their success and independence in daily life. And while the field has grown since its formal inception, the root structure of OT traces back to leading people into the daily experience and activities of mental health and physical recovery. I have learned so much in the last 14 weeks from the staff and clients that I could not describe it all. However, I would like to briefly share a few things I will take with me.

Recovery is a full-time job. Between chemical dependency, re-integrating into the community, building relationships, mental health and legal adversities, there is no pause in the work for clients at REAL LIFE. I completely underestimated the daily trials of rebuilding a life under the weight of relapse prevention. And this unpaid full-time job of recovery is in addition to the full- time work of vocation.

Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and terminal disorder. I have been an OT student in the neuro ICU, and various acute care settings, and have seen people in critical condition who are just barely hanging on medically, knowing they may die soon. The difference between those health care settings and my time at REAL LIFE is that with addiction someone may be here one day, up and alive, maybe even showing improvement, then the next day, they are gone, overdosed, deceased. Without being in the context of a recovery setting, I would not have grasped the urgency and risk of the disorder.

“They don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” This is something Sarah (REAL LIFE Director) has repeated over the course of the last 14 weeks and I will take that with me to any setting I work in. One of the things that I love about OT is the emphasis on working with people, instead of working on them, and this summarizes many of the attributes of rapport building succinctly.

Lastly, I want to say a big “thank you” to all the staff and clients here. You all have been wonderful! ~~ Paul Kehrer

And, what we want to say to Paul (who wrote this article) and his counterpart Matt, who was also with us this semester, you will be missed! You taught us so much. OT and recovery/re-entry haven’t been traditionally placed together, but after having you all on board, we all saw how it fits like a glove. It’s an obvious fit! The application you all added, implementing stress management, leisure group, cognitive assessment, and more, adds to how collectively we serve our clients. The staff is better through having training from you both, and our clients are better off having been served by you all! Until next time, Paul and Matt…