Occupational Therapy OT

‘Practice What You Teach’ – Mental Health in Healthcare Professionals

Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) graduate, Madalynn Seymour, asked herself an insightful question as she approached her doctoral capstone research project – her final project before graduation. How are we as therapists supposed to give back to other people if we’re not giving ourselves what we need to be happy and healthy?

As an eighth term OTD student at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), Dr. Seymour found herself in a uniquely stressful situation as she finished her graduate education during a national pandemic. The stress of school, graduation, and certification boards are typical stressors for students, but the pandemic added another layer of anxiety.

“Her project was so interesting and timely,” Doctoral Coordinator and Assistant Professor Dr. Thais Petrocelli said. “While she obviously didn’t plan it, she was able to provide tools to our students during a great time of increased stress beyond that of a typical graduate student.”

As she continued to research practices and implement them in her own life, she came to title her capstone project “Practice What You Teach: Mindfulness 101.” Her intent with the project was to spread awareness of how students and healthcare professionals can incorporate mindfulness practices into their lives to help manage stress.

“I wanted to focus my project on what we could do to address the overall mental health of graduate students,” she said. “In one of my psychology classes at USAHS, I had the opportunity to go through a little bit of mindfulness practice, yoga, and meditation, and I realized that this would be a great tool to implement for all students.”

Participants were required to complete surveys before and after the study regarding perceived stress levels, mindful habits, and engagement in occupations. She organized two four-week sessions where she held one-hour twice-weekly group meetings that focused on mindful practices.

  • Week 1 – Basics of Mindfulness and What it Means to be Mindful
  • Week 2 – Physical Effects of Stress on the Body
  • Week 3 – Visual Techniques
  • Week 4 – Mental and Physical Practices

“We followed each session with a discussion – what the students thought about it, if it was beneficial, they asked questions, and we related it back to the OT and PT practice,” Dr. Seymour said. “I wanted to make the connection that these practices are helpful as students but will also be helpful in our careers.”

According to Dr. Seymour’s research, students’ primary sources of stress were practicals, exams, and lack of time. Participants were encouraged to practice the mindfulness techniques they were using outside of the one-hour sessions. Time was a significant factor, the lack of it contributed to students’ stress and took away from the focus on these techniques and other things that give back to their mental health. Students’ favorite techniques learned in the project were progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and yoga.

“Madalynn also ensured that participants had supporting materials by designing a website with important and useful information revolving around the concepts she was teaching during her program,” Dr. Petrocelli said.

Dr. Seymour never saw herself working in the mental health field within occupational therapy, but she could see herself working in this space after completing this project. Specifically, she’s interested in working with the Wounded Warriors organization, adding a mindfulness component to assist veterans.

“I never pictured myself working in mental health because I didn’t have any experience working with this setting, diagnoses, and the interventions,” Dr. Seymour said. “Now, I feel that I have a better grasp and could make a positive difference in people’s lives with what I have learned from this project.”

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