Sundance Outdoor Occupational Therapy
Molly Houston, OTS
“I believe that the best way to create good living conditions for any animal, whether it's a captive animal living in a zoo, a farm animal or a pet, is to base animal welfare programs on the core emotion systems in the brain. My theory is that the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary. If we get the animal's emotions right, we will have fewer problem behaviors... All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain.”
“Fortunes are made where trends, fashion, fads, and problems intersect”
My fieldwork at Sundance Outdoor Therapy is coming to a close, and I have been humbled to witness and take part in the hard work that goes into a young business, a ranch, and a growing outdoor occupational care network. I have fondly woken up each morning to feisty the goat trying to escape his pen, and Sundance the horse nudging his nose on my shoulder to persuade me to hurry up and get him some hay. I have also been truly honored to work alongside multiple individuals who have devoted their lives to autonomy and occupational justice for those they serve. Sundance Outdoor Therapy finds itself within an emerging practice setting for occupational therapy and one that shows immense evidence-based promise for improving function in social, emotional, and physical health. I knew when I first got this fieldwork placement it would be unique, but I did not realize that each day would offer me an abundance of opportunities to challenge myself to grow as an occupational therapist, a community-builder, and a steward of the environment. I have two short weeks left now, and it is my intention to leave this place with the ability to manage a caseload, the ability to develop a business plan for an independent outdoor occupational therapy clinic and engrain myself in a community of care providers that are utilizing evidence-based practice to promote engagement in the outdoors.
During this fieldwork, I have had autonomy with support in managing myself as a therapist which has allowed me to practice the steps of assessment, evaluation, plan of care, and implementation for a diverse caseload. I have learned that the assessment process is a critical foundation for the care we are capable of giving. This is the process in which we paint a picture of our clients in the most holistic way possible, and each step presents itself as a useful tool for building resilience, skills, and perseverance in each of our clients. Whether it is interviewing, standardized assessments, non-standardized assessments, or observation, each piece provides invaluable insight into the client’s and family’s needs. The therapeutic activities I came up with during the first weeks of fieldwork were inherently limited, but as I delved further into the evaluation process it became clearer how to build therapeutic value, how to grade activities on the spot, and how to scaffold tasks to build a success-based learning model. I now feel confident in setting client-centered and family-centered goals and utilizing everyday activities that both reach those goals and motivate the client to promote transference to daily life. I have also been afforded the opportunity to sit-in on interprofessional meetings surrounding organizational assessment overhaul which seek to further develop evidence-based practice. I would like to continue to enhance my ability to choose and implement client-centered assessments.
During this fieldwork placement, I have also been exposed to the trials and tribulations of owning and running an occupational therapy ranch. My clinical advisor Jeff Galloway described to me in the first week that we would have to adapt to changes as they arose, and there would be many changes which anyone who works in the outdoors can attest to. 35 clients, 35 families, 30+ animals, insurance, and a Colorado landscape were all interacting parts of the organism that is Sundance Outdoor Therapy. Jeff also described his journey into owning and operating an outdoor occupational therapy clinic as “always processing”. This placement has taught me how to prioritize my psychological and physical attention with the organizational mission in mind. That meant that some days were filled with appointments, evaluations, and documentation, while others maintained a focus on the artifacts included in the functioning of the ranch. This included all forms of animal-care, infrastructure care, interprofessional collaboration, and the processing of materials. Most days were filled with a combination of the two, yet no two days would ever look the same. Within a small for-profit occupational therapy business, the owner takes on a variety of roles and is responsible for anticipating the changing needs of the clients, the animals, insurance, billers, and the environment. This is unlike most other settings I have worked in as an occupational therapy student, where workers maintained a clear and outlined job description. Jeff has demonstrated to me the ways in which ownership of a healthcare company can allow creativity through evidence-based practice unparalleled in large organizations, as well as provide a unique opportunity for consumers to find occupational therapy in settings that motivate clients to achieve. I would like to continue to develop my understanding of the process of building an outdoor occupational therapy business, and how to diversify service offering to include one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or community living for individuals with disabilities.
Finally, during this fieldwork I have been given the opportunity to become a part of an occupational care network that requires an entire village to reach its mission. I have even been able to participate in two separate programs (Sundance Outdoor Therapy and Colorado State University Temple Grandin Equine Center), that coexist in partnership to provide unique, animal-assisted therapy to consumers. I have worked with over 20 individuals who all play pivotal roles in the the care and keeping of these two organizations, and am in awe of how when people come together they can build something that is more efficacious than anything they could have created alone. One of Jeff’s favorite quotes is “communication takes time”, and it is clear to me that the final product of his business has come from years of bringing together peoples’ diverging needs and taking the time to communicate not just appropriately, but comprehensively. I hope to finish out my fieldwork with great attention on this aspect of my skills, to become a masterful communicator and community facilitator. I hope to understand the roles required in a new business, and how to bring everyones best skills together to build something beautiful.