Week 108

Maddie draws parallels between Third Wave’s work and occupational therapy.

Occupational therapy of a different sort

A couple weeks ago we had a mini-workshop for me on the ins and outs of client work. It occurred to me, while discussing the nature of the work we do and the services we provide, that there are interesting parallels between Third Wave and occupational therapy.

I recently finished up a batch of occupational therapy sessions, for a persistent hand-and-wrist problem. With the therapist, the process starts out with identifying where and how things hurt, palpating, massaging, stretching. She asks plenty of questions, whether it hurts more at a particular time of day or in a particular circumstance, whether the issue is dependent on temperature, how long it’s been going on, etc., but also makes ordinary small talk, asking about how things are going at work and what I do in my free time. From these conversations on indirectly related topics, details emerge that give her more insight into what might be contributing to the pain.

At first it seemed the problem was in my tendons, then my nerves, then my muscles. We concluded finally that the real problem was in my neck and my back, where the muscles had gotten themselves into knots and were really quite weak, and the hand could only be made better by exercising these other areas from which the problem stemmed, and keeping muscular reactions to stress under control. We made up an exercise regime that I need to carry out regularly.

It’s not only this advice, the part that tells you how to get better, that makes the process so valuable. It also causes you to be more aware of bad habits or poor posture that might be harmful in the long term. One key characteristic of the process is that the therapist doesn’t have the power to cure you, but you must be committed to working with her to find a solution to the problem. This commitment on both sides is what makes the process successful.

Similarly, in our line of work, we often take vague, hard-to-define problems and, after discussion both about the problem and about other things, we find unexpected kinks that were causing trouble. In order to come up with valuable suggestions that will improve a client’s efficiency, morale or productivity, we have to go through that process of identifying things we don’t know we don’t know about the client, which requires quite a bit of conversation. A lot of great insights are only stumbled upon because of chance conversation. And in our case as well as in the therapist’s, both sides have to be committed in order for the process to be successful. The continuous contact as well as commitment on both sides are the factors that determine whether the ideas generated come to fruition or not.

(As an aside, though: If you have a repetitive strain injury or something similar from typing and sitting all day, go see someone about it. Really. Ignoring it makes it a lot worse.)

Author: Maddie

Maddie is a strategist and researcher. She spends much of her time on the think tank side of Third Wave, and enjoys getting into the details of many different topics at once. Through this foraging for information, she finds ways to apply knowledge from one field in new, seemingly disparate ones, both in client work and other research. She holds an interdisciplinary BA in Computer Science, Linguistics and German, and has previously worked at VCCP and at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

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