For years, I’ve been eager to weave together art and occupational therapy in diverse ways. Although the exact direction wasn’t clear, I was more open about sharing this dream, mostly within close circles. As I voiced it, put it down on paper, digital notes, and made it known, something remarkable unfolded in the seed that was dropped – a collaboration blossomed.

Grab your drink of choice and cozy up for some more reading. Check out the brief interview down below with Dr. Asha Rao, OTD, OTR/L, The Masala Chai OT.

If this conversation leaves you inspired as I am by the fusion of art and therapy, share your thoughts in the comments and let’s continue this conversation!

“Did you know the beginnings of occupational therapy were founded in arts and crafts during WWII?

Art was meant as a medium to provide structure and something that soldiers could independently create while in social settings, while making something of value, and processing what they had experienced.

Roshni is a pediatric occupational therapist but also an amazing artist whose use of paint, digital, and physical mediums allows her to express her feelings and reflections but those of her pediatric clients she works with in FL!

Check out how Roshni found occupational therapy and how she incorporates her love of art into pediatric practice.”

Dr. Asha Rao, OTD, OTR/L, The Masala Chai OT

How did you know you wanted to become a pediatric occupational therapist?

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

Discovering my path to becoming a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) was more of a journey than a straight-forward realization. I’ve always felt a calling to serve animals and/or kids, but where and how remained a mystery. From considering careers like paleontology, marine biology, veterinary medicine, pediatric medicine, and even surgery (who knows how that one snuck in LoL), I eventually stumbled upon OT.

The decision to choose and fully commit to pediatric OT evolved through several phases, including a personal experience with rehab post a motor vehicle accident requiring a more intimate exposure to physical therapy. The “ah-ha” moment arrived when an elder sister introduced me to a friend working as an occupational therapist. Shadowing her for a couple days in an outpatient neuro rehab offered valuable insights into this never heard before fields intricacies, the infinite possibilities, and where to get started.

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

While I was relentless in my journey towards being accepted at University of Southern California (USC) master’s in OT program, doubts persisted throughout school. Fieldwork rotations became real-world reaffirmation of my choice, exploring diverse settings – from general and children’s hospitals, in-home geriatric and pediatric care, skilled nursing homes, pediatric medical daycare, and even hippotherapy. Despite uncertainties, every interaction with kids, regardless of the setting, brought a sense of fulfillment for me and a sense of empowerment for them.

My initial preference was for children’s hospitals, but I changed my direction and finally started the professional real-world adventure with school-based OT, both in public and private. Transitioning through various settings, including outpatient, and starting my own private practice back in California, embracing telehealth allowed me more of a balance while still maintaining a connection with the kids seen within their natural environments.

While in-person connections will always hold a special place, telehealth aligns more seamlessly with my flexible and creatively inclined entrepreneurial lifestyle. It ensures a positive impact on the kids and families collaborated with, while maintaining a balanced lifestyle for myself, bridging the gap between technology and compassionate care.

Stay tuned for more magic in the making as I explore more intersecting realms of occupational therapy and art!

How long have you been doing art for?

What are some of your favorite mediums?

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

Hmmm that kind of depends on what your definition of “doing art” is. 😉

Art, to me, extends far beyond the confinement of canvases. It’s an intricate part of life – a form of self-expression transcending speech, reflecting emotions, thoughts, experiences, and connecting with the essence of the heART of living. It serves as a powerful tool for self-discovery, healing, and soul empowerment echoing the heartbeats of life’s diverse experiences.

My lifelong journey as a multi-faceted creative has been intricately woven into every aspect of my being. Growing up as a South Asian Woman in the vastly diverse city of Los Angeles, CA, I was immersed in both Western and International art forms early on. However, the pursuit of art as a profession met many challenges due to social expectations, cultural nuances, and my own mental health struggles including self-doubt and identity crises.

Art-related classes, whether taken as school electives, self-taught adventures, or introduced by my parents and sisters, offered glimpses into various art forms like ice skating, voice, piano, and oil painting. Despite challenges, dance and photography remained consistent and safe companions in my artistic journey.

The enlightening idea articulated by Mary Reilly, EdD, emphasizing that “(Hu)Man, through the use of his hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of his own health”, resonated deeply during OT school, and continues to shape even my own heART of living. This realization illuminated the therapeutic and soul-empowering advantages of creating, by conventional and unconventional means.

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

The artistic skills gained from these glimpses into the art world, not only enhanced my understanding of myself but also nurtured an interconnectedness within the heART of living life. Without me realizing it, my artistic voice emerged organically for OT related means – materializing in session planning, problem-solving, communicating with a multi-disciplinary team, crafting activities and tools for my patients, clients, fieldwork students and even my own organizational needs.

Now, officially entering my third year loudly identifying as an artist, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s to come! As for favorite mediums, the choices are abundant with some yet to be fully explored! My favorite go-to tools for a creative adventure in or out of the art studio include basic pens, pencils, sketchbooks, crayons, colored pencils, my trusty tablet, the ever-ready camera phone, and the beats of eclectic music to set the mood or ignite some dance moves!

How do you incorporate your passion for art into pediatric OT?

What does incorporating art into your clinical practice, support your clients in or address?

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

Navigating the realms of pediatric occupational therapy and art reveals the interconnectedness of life, transcending traditional therapeutic and art making methods. Historically even, occupational therapy (OT) has centered on mental health, using traditional arts and crafts to shape itself as a holistic profession addressing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

As a pediatric occupational therapist and artist, infusing art into my practice is an intentional and enriching approach tailored to the unique needs of my young clients. This fusion serves as a powerful holistic and therapy tool, addressing diverse aspects of their well-being and developmental journey.

The creative process, much like occupational therapy, becomes a means of self-expression and achieving therapeutic and artistic goals through a playful and safe space. Art, in its diverse forms, becomes a unique language for conveying emotions, thoughts, and experiences, especially for young individuals facing challenges in verbal communication and social interactions.

Five Deuces Small Works Art Show Winners. Two paintings hanging on the wall.

Engaging in art with pediatric clients addresses fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and sensory exploration, tailored to each child’s strengths and needs. Beyond these benefits, art nurtures creativity and imagination, crucial for cognitive development. It also enhances problem-solving and socio-emotional skills, boosting self-esteem and fostering positive self-images in young minds.

In one memorable session that currently comes to mind, a young client demonstrated impressive problem-solving skills through an art-inspired computer game, centered around their preferred interest in engineering and vehicles. The task involved creating a vehicle, a ramp, and successfully navigating that vehicle up the ramp without mishaps. The kiddo not only crafted the game elements but also strategized and executed solutions successfully, managing frustrations levels with each attempt. This is proof of the impactful fusion of art, cognitive development, creative thinking, and technology within the realm of pediatric occupational therapy.