Graduate plans to use animal-assisted therapy to improve lives - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Graduate plans to use animal-assisted therapy to improve lives

13 May 2021

Research to provide fresh insights into the benefits of animal-assisted therapy within the disability sector is the next career focus for new Fraser Coast graduate Caitlin Winen.

Caitlin, who received a Commendation for Academic Excellence when she graduated recently from USC with a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Honours), has begun working as a community occupational therapist with Total Rehab Solutions in Hervey Bay.

“I am enjoying the diversity and challenges of this role within the disability sector,” said Caitlin. “I am gaining so much valuable knowledge and experience from working with clients with so many different conditions and needs.

“One day I might be helping a client to develop their independence in life skills, and the next day I am prescribing equipment or home modifications to increase a client’s independence and safety.”

On top of her Occupational Therapy studies at USC’s Sunshine Coast campus, Caitlin also completed a nationally accredited Certificate III in dog behaviour and training.

Her next career goal is to merge the two qualifications.

“Research indicates that animal-assisted therapy promotes positive effects on mental and physical health across a range of populations, so it can be a valuable therapeutic tool for the disability sector,” Caitlin said.

“Animals naturally bring unconditional love, acceptance and a judgement-free nature to a therapy session,” she said. “However, research in this area is still relatively limited, which is why I hope to undertake postgraduate studies to expand this field of knowledge.”

After discovering the holistic nature of occupational therapy while completing senior at Caloundra State High School, Caitlin became inspired by the profession and enrolled at USC’s Sunshine Coast campus in 2016.

Completing 1,000 hours of hands-on experience as a requirement of the degree allowed Caitlin to experience life as an OT prior to graduating.

 “Occupational therapists help a wide range of people overcome limitations caused by injury or illness, psychological or emotional difficulties, developmental delays or the effects of ageing,” she said.

 “Throughout my degree I gained valuable skills and knowledge within numerous settings including aged care, hand therapy, acute inpatient care, community-based services and paediatric assessment.”

 She said a highlight was her final placement at Gladstone Hospital and Community Health Service.

 “I was able to apply all of the theoretical knowledge I had learned over the past four years to my practice and successfully manage my first independent OT caseload,” she said.

 “My foundational theoretical knowledge combined with my clinical experiences have shaped my professional identity as new graduate occupational therapist.” 

 Applications to study at USC in Semester 2 are now open.

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