Occupational therapistâ€™s award-winning article generates discussionJuly 6, 2012 by Lisa Bailey
Ellie Wray looks at impact of cultural beliefs on work with families
Occupational Therapist (OT) Ellie Wray’s award-winning article sparked not only celebration but also discussion amongst her peers at the BC Centre for Ability (BCCFA) on understanding cultural beliefs.
“This is really what it was all about, exploring where we come from and what we need to do to be more effective working with families,” Director of Occupational Therapy Susan Bonney says, describing the paper that earned the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists 2012 Golden Quill Award for, among other things, enhancing the profession’s theoretical foundation.
Titled “Cultural Competence in Occupational Therapists Working in Early Intervention Therapy Programs,” the 2011 article reports on research Ellie did to complete her master’s of rehabilitation science degree at the University of British Columbia. She shares the award with her research supervisor, Patricia Mortenson.
Ellie, who is an OT and intake co-ordinator with the Centre’s Early Intervention Therapy Program, studied five OTs and the effect of cultural beliefs on their work with families.
Ellie works in the culturally diverse region of Burnaby and her project was highly relevant to peers supporting families in multicultural centres like Vancouver, where the BCCFA is based.
“She talked about how, as occupational therapists working with multicultural families, we really need to explore what we know about culture, how we explore our own cultural beliefs and how they impact our relationship with our clients. And how we embed our own experiences and knowledge when we work with families in a family-centred model,” Susan says.
Ellie’s paper, appearing in the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, encourages OTs to reflect on who they are and what they bring to families from different cultures and backgrounds.
“We have many families for whom English is a second language, and we think about that a lot in using interpretation, but we also need to think a lot about what their experiences are, what their priorities are in life, and a lot of those are based not only on their cultural background but their family culture and so forth,” Susan says.
A result can be different goals for different families. In some cultures, for instance, it’s important that children achieve self-care goals such as toileting early, while in others, children are supported to a later point as part of family nurturing.
“We need to be aware of that and really open to where the family is at,” Susan says. “And the other piece is, of course, to not judge their choices based on our own culture and beliefs.”
“We need to understand how our own perspectives might lead us to make decisions for families and make judgements on their choices. And understanding that enables us to be more open to who they are and how to help them,” Susan says.
Ellie’s paper was read by the Centre’s OTs then revisited when the award was announced. It’s also been shared with social workers, speech pathologists and physiotherapists.
“It’s not really only about OTs, it’s about anybody who works with families in a diverse city such as Vancouver, because we really need to know who that family is so we can help them help their child.”
Susan says the award is something for everyone at the BCCFA to celebrate as it continues to strive for program and service excellence and encourage scientific inquiry.
“We’re very proud of Ellie,” she says.
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