WCU Instructor Uses OT to Nurture ’Roots of Wellness’ Therapy Garden

WCU OT Instructor

For West Coast University alumni and instructor Lauren Diaz, a large portion of the fieldwork she does with students is to show the need for occupational therapists in the community. 

“At the very crux of what occupational therapy is, we focus on improving the health and wellness of individuals through the engagement of meaningful occupations,” Lauren said. “We focus on helping people thrive in their environment.” 

Lauren’s journey began by working at a women’s transitional living facility that was starting a therapy garden. She said that the experience led to the development of her role as a community-based fieldwork instructor. 

“We created a position to go to places that don’t have OT and provide supervision for our students to focus on mental health and wellness in our community,” she said. 

Lauren is currently partnering with two community organizations that assist people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness. Students work with clients individually and put together a program to run group therapy. 

At Ascencia Emergency Shelter, students are facilitating a seven-week OT group program, “Roots to Wellness,” for the residents living in the shelter. 

“Each week is focused on one of the eight dimensions of wellness,” Lauren said. “Students have activities for the residents that help them with goal setting and self-management strategies, such as meal planning, yoga, painting and more.” 

After each trimester, students collect data and outcomes to present and advocate for the need of OTs. 

“Two of our organizations have hired OTs because of the work of our students,” Lauren said. 

Lauren’s passion for OT was sparked after working as a behavior interventionist for children. She said she saw some of the children experience occupational therapy. The children would go through obstacle courses and decorate cookies to improve their motor skills. 

“It just looked very fun to me,” Lauren said. “It looked like the children were having fun. The therapist was having fun.” 

Lauren graduated as part of the second cohort for the MSOT program at WCU-CGS in 2015. 

“Through school, I learned more about the whole scope of OT and what’s possible,” she said. 

Lauren hopes to foster her students’ strengths and provide them with experience in natural environments where they can grow. 

“Working in the community pushes you out of your comfort zone. You have to be the one that explains what OT is and be the one who answers all of the questions,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting; we are creating new pathways for the profession.” 

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.