Have you ever read a book that took you to a world that you did not want to leave? Have you every finished a book and missed the characters? Do you reread books to see what you missed the first time? If you answered yes to even one of those questions, then being a reader is one of your many occupations.
When I choose books to read for the month, I try to choose a couple of books where understanding the experience of the characters can make me a better clinician. I also choose books that transport me to a setting that provides me with an opportunity for occupational balance. We are at a time where a 30-minute to 1 hour escape into another world is just what is needed to provide ourselves with some self-care.
Years ago, I spoke to an instructor who shared that she used memoirs and novels as required reading for a mental health occupational therapy class to share the lived experiences of individuals with mental health diagnoses. This revelation broadened my thoughts on what constitutes a textbook to teach occupational therapy and reading to learn to be a better clinician.
I quickly learned that a memoir provides a first-person account of an experience in that person’s life and how it shaped their life, decisions, and what worked to make them function. Textbooks provide clinical definitions of diagnoses, symptoms, and intervention strategies. But memoirs provide those concepts with the lived experience of a person and brings those concepts to life. In the end, it helps to understand the decisions people make based on their experience and what worked to get them to a better place in their life. As occupational therapy practitioners, this is our goal as clinicians, to understand our client in a manner that allows for a prescriptive intervention plan that allows for optimal role performance.
There are books than lend themselves to understanding the mindset of individuals that have been through experiences that mirror what is learned in an occupational therapy curriculum. These are usually non-fiction books. But, a well-researched fiction book can also lend itself to the learning process with questions that dissect a character, the character’s personality, choices, symptoms, and outcomes. Those questions can lead to a discussion of what can be done for that character from an occupational therapy scope of practice.
For today’s post, the focus will be on two non-fiction and one fiction book that allows for a deeper discussion of characters and how they relate to the practice of occupational therapy.
The first non-fiction book is Know my name by Chanel Miller. This book was a New York Times best seller and has a list of accolades including Best Book of 2019 by The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, TIME, Elle, Glamour, Parade, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, BookRiot. The reviews of this book were consistently positive and was on everyone’s must read books. I did not realize until after reading this article: https://www.thecut.com/2019/09/coming-forward-about-sexual-assault-and-what-comes-after.html the importance of the author. I remember hearing this story on the news in snippets. But, did not realize that this was Emily Doe until I read the linked article.
When I finally read the book, it was eye opening. Separate from the full transparency of the trauma she sustained. The way Miller paints the picture of the events was a sensory experience. She does not write down the facts of what happened to her in one dimensional phrases. Her word choices somehow places you there, but not in a manner that feels intrusive, which was a concern of mine when deciding to read this book. Would I be transported to the telling of her assault in a way that felt like a voyeur? The result of such a captivating writing style is that you keep reading and learning.
As you keep reading, there is so much to learn from Miller. Some takeaways: (1) the impact of trauma on a person’s psyche (2) the role of those that are in the social and familial circle of a person that experienced trauma (3) understanding the underlying behaviors of a person that went through trauma (4) the meaning of the externalizations of a person that went through trauma (5) best manner to support those that have been through trauma (5) short and long-term outcomes of experience trauma and (6) the judicial process with sexual assault.
From an occupational therapy intervention standpoint, some things to consider: (1) how can we support people that experienced trauma? (2) what domains are affected following trauma and how can we support the process of healing? (3) what are the external levels of support that can be provided to progress this individual? and (4) what are mechanisms that the client can use to express what he or she wants? Each point can be found in this book by Miller’s experience through her words. How would you help a client that experienced this type of trauma? What setting would you work with a client like Miller? The questions that can be posed from an occupational therapy scope of practice are limitless.
Remembering this story from the news, there were always groups of people who questioned many aspects of Miller the night she was assaulted, which occurs quite a bit with rape victims. Miller captures her thoughts on this schism: “They seemed angry that I’d made myself vulnerable, more than the fact that he’d acted on my vulnerability.” Powerful words that we can keep in mind when working with rape survivors.
Know my name—Rating: 4/4 stars
This second book was one that I choose because of my love of education and its positive impact with the underserved. I honestly thought the book was about the education system in America! I tend not to read the summaries of books too close because there are too many clues that ruin the story for me. So, I entered this book with a certain expectation. I thought Westover would explain the education system in America, its history, and the impact on the betterment of the underserved. Spoiler alert: that is not what happened! It was so much more than that!
Similar to Miller, the accolades are plentiful for Educated: Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, Time, NPR, Good Morning America, The Economist and Financial Times to name a few.
Westover’s account of her life is so vivid, candid, and comprehensive. She starts with her childhood in Idaho with her family that was highly religious and traditional. You learn of her father, the patriarch of the family that sets the tone for the family’s beliefs and practices. You learn of her mother and her role as the matriarch, but also as some that is submissive to her father. This paints the picture of a non-traditional household in many ways.
Central to this story is getting educated and the impact of being educated on expanding the world view and life outcomes of individuals in the story, from Westover to her siblings. One quote that captures this journey: “I would never again be made a foot soldier in a conflict I did not understand.” Education expands one’s horizons which leads to questioning of ideas that are told when there is evidence to the contrary. This story is one of contrasts of the life outcomes of individuals that are educated by traditional educational institutions and those are not. She expands on a rich journey where each reader will have a different view of what was important and takeaways from the book. But, each reader’s view will expand in some manner from reading this book. This book leads you to think about your views on the role of education, poverty, race, mental health, religion and so much more. With this book, every page is a rich story.
From an occupational therapy perspective, some thoughts would be: (1) what is the role of occupational therapy with ensuring that clients are provided with an education that allows them to live up to their potential? (2) what is the impact of poverty on client’s occupational role and how can we address the domains affected to allow for engagement? (3) how can we externally and internally provide familial support to individuals that hold different religious beliefs and values than we do? and (4) from a community perspective how can we support initiatives that progress the education of that are undeserved?
Educated rating: 4/4
This is where my explanations of books will become slim to prevent spoilers. I am the kind of reader that picks up on every clue within a book and can figure out the ending with the tiniest of clue. I am sure many can relate. We are going into fiction books where stories are more crafted and the more that is explained, the increased likelihood that the tiniest of explanations will be a spoiler!
The Nickel Boys can be placed in the category of a well-researched fiction book. The fact that it won the Pulitzer Prize, the highest prize in writing underscores the strength of Whitehead’s writing. The book is set in Florida and follows the story of boys in a juvenile detention center. The Nickel Boys is based on an actual reform school that existed at the time the story took place. Whitehead’s writing is steeped with historical references and paints a picture that makes you think about destiny.
Whitehead captures a pivotal time in American history and provides a gut-wrenching understanding of racism, civil rights, the juvenile detention system, opportunities missed and opportunities provided. This book may not fully carry an occupational therapy class when looking at issues that affect the minority population. But, reading the story and following the path of the main characters, leaves you with the importance of always providing support. It magnifies our current situation with the BLM movement and what can occur without the right amount of support and what can occur without it.
The Nickel Boys rating: 4/4
Reading books with content that can be directly applied to occupational therapy practice is great for our clinical skills. But, reading books that take you away from the world of occupational therapy can be great for self-care. And you know my number one belief is the importance of filling your cup to be a better person and a better clinician. Going into another world for 30 minutes to one hour a day is sometimes what is needed to recharge. For me, I love a good mystery and I am always on the lookout for good authors. This author was recommended by the fifth book’s (below) author. This was my first book by Mary Kubica and it did not disappoint!
Following the story of Sadie a doctor, her husband, and sons who moves to Maine following the death of a family member, The Other Mrs. is an amazing, amazing, a-mah-zing story. The characters are so multi-layered, which always gives a mystery staying power. Nothing is worse than having characters that are one-dimensional. Multi-dimensional characters keep you guessing, and this book will keep you guessing! Kubica’s writing has twists and turns that will keep your interest piqued from the first page until the last. Multiple arcs to this story where even one clue will be a spoiler. So, my summary will be simple—read it!
The other Mrs. rating: 4/4
Second book to read for occupational balance. Kate White is bar none on the most underrated writers today. The first book I read by White was Such a perfect wife, a Bailey Wiggins mystery. I was pretty antsy to read something low key, anything, and this came up as a recommendation from my Overdrive search. I could not put it down. It was also a low-key story. Nothing too heavy. But, still had great character development, plot twists, relatable characters, and a believable plot. This lead me to a few more White books and now I am just hooked on her writing. When her new book, Have you seen me became available, I leaped at the opportunity to read the book and it was a good move on my part!
Have you seen me is about a young lady, Ally, complete loses the memory of two days of her life and is piecing the time together to find out what happened. Like I mentioned, White’s writing is so underrated. Every page of this book is well-written and central to the story. There are no random characters that are not connected to the plot, which makes for a good story. Sometimes writers will centrally place characters in a mystery for pages and pages, and in the end, the person had absolutely no bearing on the story. In my mind, I think, this book could have been 100 pages shorter if you left this character out! Again, a mystery, so no spoilers. This is a great weekend read.
Have you seen me? rating: 4/4.
Sneak preview for July!
Just finished: Stranger in the lake by Kimberly Belle
Now reading: The water dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
To be read: The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.,
This was a stellar month of reading the work of some great authors. I think I am going to take the plunge and join Goodreads to keep track of new books coming out. I would like to expand my genres as well. Any book recommendations will be greatly appreciated. Any good books that would help with occupational therapy practice? Any books that would help with occupational balance?