This interview by STISIM Drive was originally published here.
Who is Rhiannon Crispe? Tell us a bit about your upbringing, where you’re from, and where you live.
Who am I?
I’m a girl who grew up in the Australian bush and moved to the coast as a teen with my family. I’m a sun-loving, beach-going, dance-in-the kitchen passion-led human with a relatively recent interest (obsession) in occupational therapy; it’s beginnings, it’s wisdom and it’s future.
I’m a wife and a mum to two gorgeous girls.
I’m a seeker. A questioner. A believer in doing meaningful work. I’m a lifelong learner.
What was your journey to becoming an OT?
I wasn’t a kid that grew up knowing what they wanted to do. It wasn’t until my final years of high school I began exploring career opportunities and what type of jobs were actually available. My mum was a school teacher, and naturally she suggested that I could follow a similar path. While the idea of taking school holidays four times a year for the rest of my working life was a great allure, my heart wasn’t convinced.
After crossing teaching off my list, and still an endless list of professions to investigate, mum suggested occupational therapy. I had never heard of it before. She told me that my brother had seen an OT when he was young, and it seemed like a fun and interesting job. She arranged for me to meet a local hospital-based OT to chat about their role and what they did day-to-day. I don’t recall a lot of the conversation, but I will never forget one thing she said: ” I help people improve their quality of life”. Boom. That was it. This one-liner had me hook, line and sinker.
Helping others to live up to their potential sounded like such a rich and fulfilling career opportunity. The more I started to learn about OT, the more I fell in love with the possibilities and potential.
The problem was that to get into occupational therapy, undertaking science at school was a pre- requisite. I hadn’t elected any science subjects because in all honesty chemistry, physics and biology sounded way too hard, complex and right-brained for me. I preferred the more creative and movement-based subjects of drama, sport and film studies.
After finishing high school and knowing I couldn’t get direct entry into occupational therapy, but determined to keep the OT dream alive, I undertook an additional year at University to get credits for science. It wasn’t easy, but I passed, and this enabled me to begin my OT studies the following year at the University of Queensland.
Since becoming an OT, I have worked in a few different settings including hospital, work rehabilitation, schools, and for the past 10 years I have run my own pediatric mobile OT practice. It’s certainly been a journey!
Do you have an example of really special experiences in your OT work that you can point to as being career highlights that really put a smile on your face.
Oh my gosh! I have collected a lot of special memories over the 15 years of working as an occupational therapist. It’s hard to choose just one. Every individual has taught me something. I really think the people I work with teach me more about life, than what I teach them. Not only have I become a better OT, but I’m a better person.
OT, podcaster, author, entrepreneur, mother, wife, sport enthusiast … and now, filmmaker! You’re a bit of a renaissance woman. What’s the attraction to having your hands in so many pots and how do you manage it all?
For me, passion is my GPS. I am led by the things that light me up and bring purpose to my life. It’s almost like I can’t help but follow those little nudges of curiosity. I do have a lot of roles and they have all shaped me in so many different ways. They are all fulfilling. They are all opportunities for growth and expansion. Many of them are creative expressions. I actually have so many other things in my life I desire to do, many of which probably won’t get fulfilled in my lifetime. But that’s how I like it: dreams so big they may not get fulfilled in my lifetime.
How do I manage it? Well, I have a very supportive husband. I don’t think he knows exactly what I’m doing half the time I’m at my desk tapping away at my keyboard working on some sort of passion project. But he 100% supports all my crazy ventures. He’s supported the ones that failed. And the ones that turned out to be a booming success. I think surrounding yourself with people who believe in you is important. He believed in me, before I ever did.
On your website, you refer to reaching a particular point in your OT work: “There was a time when work was entirely exhausting and I was completely uninspired.” This obviously, changed, which was the inspiration for you making your documentary film, Finding Me In OT. Tell a little about that journey and how you came to decide to tell that story through the power of film.
There was a time early on in my career that I really disliked going to work. Everyday felt like ground hog day. Work felt monotonous and draining. I was just going to work to earn the paycheck at the end of the week. The thing was, in my personal life I was actively making positive changes to my lifestyle to support my well-being. I was eating cleaner. I replaced my toxic household and beauty products with low-tox alternatives. I was intentional with my time spent in nature and I was just more conscious about my everyday choices. I constantly asked myself, were my daily occupations moving me towards health and wellbeing, or away from it? So, waking up 5 days a week and dragging myself job that sucked the life out of me, simply was not something I was going to settle for.
I decided to slowly start weaving the principles I was learning in my personal life into my work. I began running sessions in nature – in the hot springs, at the park and the beach. I helped bring people’s awareness to the food they were eating and how it was possibly impacting on their child’s attention and behavior. I started doing therapy in ways that felt aligned. This became fundamental to my new life philosophy.
Over the years I have seen so many other occupational therapists also lose their passion for the work they do. I realized falling out of love with OT wasn’t just my story. It was the story of so many other OTs around the world. This feeling of being unfulfilled, burnt-out, uninspired, and even jaded by the profession was far more common than I thought. I felt a calling to share my story and shine a light on the possibilities in the hope that other occupational therapists too found their meaningful work. I wanted to share the breadth and depth, and the heart and wisdom of our beautiful profession. The best way for me to do this was through film.
I thought film would capture the essence of what I wanted to convey in a way that no other art form was going to. Film is very powerful and has a greater tendency to resonate with people. It allowed me to be creative and tell a story through weaving together my narrative, people’s everyday stories with the wisdom from some of the most prominent occupational therapy professionals and scholars in the world including Michael Iwama, Charles Christiansen, Winnie Dunn, Carolyn Baum, Lela Llorens, Kim Barthel, Jen Gash and Kavita Murthi.
If there is one theme or message from the film that you most want people to come away with after viewing it, what would that be?
I want occupational therapists to walk away feeling inspired. I want them to allow themselves to dream of the possibilities and know that there is so much scope within occupational therapy. I encourage occupational therapists to go to the intersection in the road where their passion meets the people. This is where life gets a whole lot more fulfilling.
Also, to return to the foundations of occupational therapy – many of which are qualitative, over- looked and under-valued aspects such as – therapeutic use of self, compassion, empathy, person-centered care, listening to a one’s narrative and working alongside them to write their life story, one occupation at a time.
Tell us something about Rhiannon Crispe that most people don’t know.
Well, I’d say most people don’t know I do coffee enemas! Certainly, a different kind of (health promoting) occupation.
I want to ask: “What’s next for Rhiannon Crispe?” but I kind of know that, in that it’s my understanding that you are writing a book. Is that correct? If so, what can you share with us?
Yes! This is my latest quest. I’m writing a book for occupational therapists. A book that I wish I had early on in my journey as an OT, and a book that I would appreciate right now even after many years in the profession. I’ve put pen to paper, and while it’s not an easy project, I know it’s absolutely going to be worthwhile!