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How Can You Become an Occupational Therapist?

22 February 2024

We spoke to Laura, one of our Senior Occupational Therapists to find out about her career journey and why being an OT at WG is so great!

Laura OT


Can you share a bit about your educational background and what drew you to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy?

When I was 18 and just leaving college, I saw a notice on the student notice board which was asking for volunteers to work in a school with children who had physical disabilities. As I was living in the North West at the time, this meant a move.

After finishing college I didn’t know whether I wanted to go to university straight away, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do at all. I decided to apply to be a volunteer at the school and worked as a house parent at one of the boarding houses there. I absolutely loved it! As a volunteer everything was paid for, your food and your accommodation and to earn a little extra, I used to walk the PE teachers dog every day as well as helping the OT’s when they did community work with the children.

Just after a few weeks I knew that it was what I wanted to do. They helped give the children independence at school, in the community and in the boarding houses, they saw the child as a whole person. I worked there for 3 years and then went on to York St John’s to study occupational therapy and completed my degree in 2006.


How have your early career experiences shaped your approach to Occupational Therapy?

For the first 18 months of my career I worked in orthopaedics. It was a great experience developing skills working on a really busy ward with people who were worried and in pain. It was a brilliant opportunity to shape my skills as I had to work collaboratively with nurses, specialist consultants and physiotherapists as well as working under high pressure. I knew however that it wasn’t for me.

After my experience in the school when I was a volunteer, I knew that was what I wanted to go into. I then got a job at a child development centre in Blackpool. I was very lucky as I got to work with five senior OT’s who were very skilled in their fields. I got to spend a day with each of them every week. So I got to do one day with someone who specialised in sensory processing, one who specialised in neurodisability, one who specialised in developmental coordination disorder, one who specialised in neurodiversity and one who specialised in housing and adaptation. I had access to their expertise and they helped me on my journey.

Before joining WG, I worked in two other children development centres and really focused on children’s barriers to occupational therapy and really thinking of how to work collaboratively with speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and the staff within the schools.

I think it’s important to go on that journey, I was very grateful to have worked with the specialist OT’s so early on, but it made me want everything straight away. Going on the journey afterwards has really helped with developing my skills as an OT.


What inspired you to join the Witherslack Group? Can you highlight any specific factors that attracted you?

I wanted to deepen my knowledge of neurodiversity and how we can help children and young people, especially those who have experienced early developmental trauma, because I hadn’t done much of this in my career previously. I was also really drawn to the professional development opportunities. I came from the NHS which is fabulous to work for, but they don’t have many development opportunities/they’re very difficult to access, so it was great to join somewhere where they support you through your development. I also have two kids and I work term time here which means I can achieve a better work/life balance.


Can you share a project or initiative that you found particularly challenging but ultimately rewarding?

My speech and language therapist colleague Sarah and I have been working at WG for about 3 years now trying to develop and embed some half termly environmental audits. It was tricky at first trying to find the evidence of what makes a really good school environment for children who have experienced developmental trauma and/or are neurodivergent.

We managed to create an audit that we were really proud of, but a bigger challenge was getting the education staff on board, as we were going into their classrooms which felt quite personal whilst suggesting changes to the space they have already made special for the children and young people. We were making suggestions from a therapeutic point of view so we had to make sure they were aware that we were coming in as collaborators to make the classroom even better.

We’re still working on it and capturing the children’s voices, we’re really proud of it already as it has been recognised by Ofsted and other outside auditors. It’s been great to demonstrate some positive results!


How has your role evolved since you first started? Are there specific skills or certifications you’ve pursued to enhance your practice?

I’ve got a much broader and deeper knowledge of the impact of a challenging early life start can have on children which is always at the forefront of my mind now.

I’ve been really lucky as WG has funded me to do my sensory integration training, so I’m a sensory integration practitioner now and I have a real special interest in interoception awareness. Since I have completed this training, I’ve done some specialist work around interoception and I’m doing a group wide special interest group to develop that.

It’s been amazing that you can ask for specific training and WG will support you, they really are great at supporting professional development. I also did WG’s Aspire course to develop my management skills which was also incredible. I think WG are really good at supporting staff that way. One of the best things about the Aspire course was meeting people and networking with the further group too.


Firstly, congratulations on winning ‘The Everyday Hero’ category at the WG Star Awards! How did you feel when you found out that you had won?

I was very flattered and I felt very grateful as well as being over the moon, but I was also bewildered! I felt really proud and it was such a nice moment though.


What do you believe contributed to receiving this recognition, and how has it impacted you?

I think because I’ve worked here for 4.5 years, completed the Aspire course and because of my senior role, I’ve got to experience different parts of the company and meet so many people and work collaboratively. I’ve had the chance to see my role from other people’s perspectives so I can notice things that can be worked on to be made better and shine a light on the great things that are already happening. It’s enabled me to be really passionate about what I do and I think that has been noticed by other colleagues.

I love occupational therapy, I really do!


If you could go back and give advice to your younger self starting in this field, what would it be?

It would be not to rush to know everything, because occupational therapy is huge, it’s everything you do. As it is such a massive field, training and developing skills come over time.

Keep the person you’re working with at the centre of what you do, focus on what’s really important to them and their occupations and you can’t go far wrong.


Is there a message or piece of wisdom you would like to share with your colleagues, aspiring Occupational Therapists, or anyone considering a career in the sector?

It’s really important to make the most of being part of a multi-disciplinary team and working collaboratively. But it’s also important to not lose sight of your professional identity as I believe OT’s are really special. We look at people as a whole, learn what their barriers are and work out ways to break them down, we’re very skilled at what we do and it’s important to remember and not lose sight of that.


Finally, what is one huge small victory you have had during your time here at WG?

I’m really proud of a young person that I’ve been working with who has been struggling with interoception, specifically the idea of knowing the difference between the feelings of needing to go to the bathroom versus some tricky emotions that they are also feeling in their tummy.

We have done loads of work focusing on the signals the body gives us and being mindful of these. This young person a couple of weeks ago came running down the corridor and shouted “I thought I needed to go to the bathroom and I was right!”. It was a great break through as they read the signals their body was giving correctly and were proud of that achievement.

This young person has struggled so much with this that they would often spend most of their life in the bathroom which made home and school life more stressful, so seeing a break through like this was very rewarding and the work continues!


If you feel inspired to join us as an Occupational Therapist, have a look through our latest vacancies below.


You can also join our Talent Community if you're not ready to make the jump just yet. Here you can be kept up to date with everything we do as well as accessing some great free webinars and resources!


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