Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Occupational Therapy Practitioners' Comfort Level and Preparedness in Working with Individuals Who Are Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Occupational Therapy Practitioners' Comfort Level and Preparedness in Working with Individuals Who Are Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual

Article excerpt

Occupational therapists and other allied health professionals face diversity with their clients, including sexual orientation. The purpose of this study was to determine the preparedness and comfort level of occupational therapy practitioners in working with gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients. A 23-item survey was mailed to 1,051 practitioners in a midwestern state. Eighty-eight were undeliverable and 373 usable surveys were returned, yielding a 39% response rate. Most respondents felt prepared and comfortable to work with clients who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and 48% agreed that sexuality influences occupational choices. Twenty-nine percent agreed that sexual orientation influences occupational therapy treatment. Less than 20% of the respondents, however, received education and used inclusive language in their documentation, and only 14% reported having resources and support services for clients who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Effective education and policy-making strategies are necessary to ensure an accepting therapeutic environment and respect for the role of sexual orientation in the intervention process. J Allied Health 2008; 37:150-155.

ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONS have placed a strong emphasis on diversity and cultural competency, "the process of actively developing and practicing appropriate, relevant, and sensitive strategies and skills in interacting with culturally different persons."1 This definition encompasses characteristics of race and ethnicity as well as sexual orientation. Practitioners are to hold attitudes, values, and beliefs that reflect equality and acceptance of others.2 Diversity should be embraced to guide the therapeutic process rather than ignored or silenced. There is, however, seemingly less emphasis placed on sensitivity to sexual orientation and its impact on clients' occupational choices.3-5 To provide client-centered intervention, allied health professionals must create a safe environment that allows clients to feel comfortable to share this part of their life. Most health care facilities, however, are driven by a spoken or unspoken heterosexual belief system.6,7 This heterosexual belief system often creates tension and deters practitioners from creating an accepting environment that allows clients to express their sexual orientation and, through that, affects their ability to reveal their full identity,8 thus compromising the quality of therapy and the ability to achieve the transforming nature of occupation.

The profession of occupational therapy views humans as occupational beings whose lives are composed of meaningful occupations that reflect their roles, values, and identities. Occupational therapy practitioners use occupation as a means to help clients participate in life roles and restore their identity, or sense of self. Sexuality is a part of who we are, reflected in our self-esteem, appearance, and actions. Sexuality may be seen as an overarching umbrella that includes our sexual orientation, which is a part of one's identity-a way in which one may define him or herself. The terms "gay" and "lesbian" often indicate identity and "a distinct system of rules, norms, attitudes, and beliefs."3 One's gay, lesbian, or bisexual (GLB) identity may "influence the occupations in which a person engages, the symbolic interpretation of those occupations, and the environmental contingencies of those occupations."5 Therefore, occupational therapy practitioners must understand the role of and importance of their clients' sexual orientation in relation to life meaning, client-centered practice, and the promotion of participation and well-being. The purpose of this study was to determine occupational therapy practitioners' preparedness and comfort level in working with clients who are GLB to increase awareness and sensitivity toward sexual identity.

Methods

RESEARCH DESIGN

This study used a survey design that collected both quantitative and qualitative information. …

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