Navigating the Shifting Sands of Occupational Therapy: Lessons from Wise Wayfinders

By Wood, Wendy | New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Navigating the Shifting Sands of Occupational Therapy: Lessons from Wise Wayfinders


Wood, Wendy, New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy


In the 1960s, Kevin Lynch, an architect and leading environmental design theorist of his time, introduced the word, wayfinding, into the English lexicon (Banerjee & Southworthy, 1996). Unlike the related and more traditional word, wayfaring, which means simply traveling, the word, wayfinding, suggests that desirable destinations await those who navigate their journeys successfully. By its very definition then, wayfinding is about getting to where one wants to be, whether that destination happens to be a safe place for rest or nourishing growth along the way or a final homecoming after a long arduous journey.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The concept of wayfinding can be about much more than just landing intact at a physical destination. Wayfinding also applies to the ways in which we navigate turbulence in our personal and professional lives, such as the shifting sands of occupational therapy in New Zealand and beyond. My focus is thus upon wayfinding as a dynamic process for making our way using strategies that help to transform ourselves and our profession as we navigate ever-changing landscapes. To covey this focus, I will rely upon the symbol of an inukshuk. Inukshuks are landmarks comprised of large and sometimes massive stones that look like a human being and communicate to travelers, I have been this way before you and it is a good way (Figure 1). As you may know, generations of the Inuit Eskimos in Alaska and Canada built inukshuks to guide travelers through the harsh and constantly changing landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

In this paper, I primarily address four wayfinding strategies, which I think of as symbolic inukshuks. These inukshuks are: (1) lean into disorienting dilemmas and persevere; (2) learn from those who illuminate the necessity of occupation; (3) feed your intellectual curiosity about the field; and (4) find your empowering community. I derived these inukshuks from a systematic analysis of contributions to a Firm Persuasion in Our Work, a forum in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy in which occupational therapists with honorable careers reflected upon their professional journeys and shared pivotal lessons and insights gleaned along the way. Based on their journeys, I conclude with a fifth inukshuk: Build robust communities through compelling occupational visions.

I offer these inukshuks humbly. I have not directly experienced the shifting sands that occupational therapists in New Zealand or any other country beyond the United States encounter. Thus I can only hope that you find the wayfinding strategies suggested herein of some value and applicability to where you live and work each day.

Inukshuk #1: Lean into disorienting dilemmas and persevere

Occupational therapists inevitably encounter a wealth of disorienting dilemmas over the course their careers. According to Mezirow (2000), disorienting dilemmas arise from challenging and unexpected experiences that throw former understandings of how things work and what things mean out of kilter; as a result, they defy usual responses and solutions and thereby prompt careful rethinking of how best to proceed. The question is what should one do when confronted with a disorienting dilemma: brush it aside or lean into it and persevere? Contributors to a Firm Persuasion in our Work suggest that the wisest response is often the latter. For leaning into disorienting dilemmas can open up new ways of imagining and doing occupational therapy, sometimes to the benefit of communities that extend beyond our corner of the world.

Journeying deeper and further

In "Deeper into the Heart of the Matter," Betty Hasselkus (2004) described her professional journey as one of ever-deepening understandings of the nature and possibilities of occupational therapy. Hasselkus acknowledged that she never could have imagined this journey in the 1950s when she got married the same week that she graduated from college. …

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