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Getting to Know: Christine Lynch

Getting to Know: Christine Lynch

April is Occupational Therapy Month — an excellent opportunity to share the value of occupational therapy. 

Our Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at CCRI prepares students for successful completion of the certification examination, to obtain state licensure, and for gainful employment as Occupational Therapist Assistants in various health care settings.

To celebrate #OTmonth at CCRI, we're profiling several members of our OTA staff who've been inspired professionally by their work in this industry and who continue to inspire students looking to join the OTA workforce. Today, we check in with Assistant Professor and Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Director Christine Lynch, who joined the college mid-pandemic in December of 2020 and has now been a part of our community for two and a half years.

A North Shore native who grew up in Massachusetts, Christine moved to New York City to complete her bachelor’s degree and stayed for another 15 years until relocating to Rhode Island in May of 2021 once in-person classes at CCRI resumed. As a former All-American duathlon performer who has competed in marathons, triathlons, and ironman races, Christine has no problem keeping busy. Though she hasn’t raced in a few years, she still swims, bikes, and runs whenever she has the time and admittedly enjoys singing lyrics to French music or really fast rap music to keep herself focused.

Learn more about Christine's journey to CCRI, what she finds most rewarding about Occupational Therapy, and her passion for gardening. 

What motivated you to pursue a career in this field?

Believe it or not, I didn’t want to go to college after high school. I was a first-generation college student and my well-meaning parents believed that the best path was to get a good state job with benefits. So, I got a job working for the state of Massachusetts, for what was then named “The Department of Mental Retardation.” I worked as a vocational instructor and supported people with developmental disabilities. I loved the work, but I was very uncomfortable with the way that many of the workers were treating the clients. I struggled to find the words to describe the subtle emotional abuse that I observed and my supervisors did not address it. That was when I decided to go to college. I wanted to become the person who would address the issues that I saw there.

I figured that psychology would be a degree that would help me to reach my goal, so I got my BA in psych. By that point I was also very interested in wellness, so I completed a certification in holistic nutrition coaching which led to my starting a private practice in nutrition coaching for athletes. I combined this with becoming a yoga instructor and a running coach. Eventually, I felt something was missing but I wasn’t sure how to combine my interests to have a purposeful and fulfilling career. That’s when I learned the full scope of what occupational therapy really is. I had heard about occupational therapy before, but I had never realized how many ways that occupational therapy can be practiced. It turns out that OT combines my passions for helping people, advocacy, wellness, and physical performance. It was everything I loved and I didn’t realize it until I was in my 30s!

Even though I had a BA in psychology, I completed an associate degree to become an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Then, while I worked as an OTA, I completed a master’s degree to become an occupational therapist (OT). Being able to work within the profession as an OTA while I completed graduate school to become an OT was incredible for me. I was able to apply what I was learning in school, while I was at work. I fell completely in love with the profession. It has occurred to me to wish that I had taken a more direct path to the occupational therapy profession, but I don’t have any regrets. I’ve learned a lot on my journey to this career and I wouldn’t change any of it.

I think a lot of people might confuse Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy and not realize the mental health aspect of OT, which is an area you specialize in. How does mental health align with the work you’ve done in this field?

PT and OT have many commonalities, but they are very different. When we practice in the same settings (sub-acute, acute, home care, etc) we make a great team because we look at a person through different lenses. PT focuses on how a person is moving their body and they address barriers such as pain. Occupational therapy uses a holistic viewpoint. The ultimate purpose of occupational therapy is to help people to participate in the daily activities (occupations) that are most meaningful and purposeful for them. To do this, we use a process called “activity analysis” to assess and support all aspects of the person (physical, cognitive, sensory, psychosocial). We then match this with the demands of the task or “occupation,” while considering the context, environment, etc. I like to think of occupational therapy practitioners as professional problem solvers.

Mental health is a very important part of this holistic lens because mental health can impact and be influenced by anything that we do (or aren’t able to do). Mental health is also connected with motivation in many ways. So, even when an occupational therapist is working with a patient who has COPD to learn energy conservation techniques, we can use our knowledge of mental health to create a very holistic intervention approach. Occupational therapists can address mental health in terms of wellness and prevention, and we can also work with people living with serious mental illness. We work in psychiatric settings and in non-psychiatric settings (such as communities, hospitals, schools, and homes). I love working in all areas of mental health practice. For example, I have had the opportunity to address mental health of survivors of brain injury through an adaptive couch to 5K running program. I’ve worked at a community program on a working farm supporting people with serious mental illness. And I have worked in an inpatient psychiatric setting supporting the geriatric population. One of the areas of mental health occupational therapy practice that is most important to me is educating people about mental health stigma, the impact, and how to reduce it.  

What is the most rewarding part of working in Occupational Therapy?

The most rewarding part of working in occupational therapy is getting to meet people and learning what brings them joy and purpose in life. Then I get to work with them to identify their barriers, strengths, supports, and goals so that they can participate more fully in life. I love problem solving with people and watching them overcome barriers and I feel grateful for the opportunity to connect with people and to join them in their journey in such a meaningful way.

As an avid gardener, what are your goals for the upcoming season?

I’m currently obsessed with learning to grow a vegetable garden on my patio. I actually have a small greenhouse shelving system in my kitchen right now. This year I’m even trying to grow watermelon from seeds.


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