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20 Questions: Lani Hessen, OTR/L

Created 04.29.12 by Juliet Farmer
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Lani Hessen, occupational therapist, registered, licensed (OTR/L), is founder and clinic director of Kidspace (www.kidspacetherapy.com), a multi-disciplinary child development clinic offering occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy, psychotherapy, physical therapy, developmental optometry, and social skills groups. Kidspace has locations in San Francisco and Mountain View, Calif.

Hessen earned her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from San Francisco State University, and her master’s degree in occupational therapy from Samuel Merritt University in the Bay Area. She worked as a pediatric occupational therapist at California Pacific Medical Center, Child Development Center for six years.

Her continuing education/postgraduate training has included the Perceptual Enrichment Program; Advanced Therapeutic Listening Workshop; Social Communication/Emotional Regulation/Transactional Support (SCERTS); From Eyesight to Insight; Sensory Integration Power Tools; Vestibular, Oculomotor and Balance Rehabilitation; and Improving Handwriting Skills in Children: Techniques and Interventions to Overcome Handwriting Dysfunction. Hessen also provides mentorship to Level 1 and 2 students as a clinical instructor.

When did you first decide to become an OT? Why?
I always thought that I would be in the health care field. I studied kinesiology in undergrad, thinking that I would apply to PT school. Through volunteer work at different hospitals, I decided that OT was a better fit for me, given that the focus of treatment is on meaningful, functional activity.

How/why did you choose the OT school you went to?
I was lucky to have a great OT program in the Bay Area (Samuel Merritt University) and I wanted to attend a school close to where I live.

What surprised you the most about OT studies/school?
I don’t really think that anything was too surprising. It helped that I studied anatomy and kinesiology as an undergraduate. It really prepared me for an intense two years of study and nine additional months of internships. They are going to push a lot of information at you in those two years of school. You just need to be as prepared as possible from the start so you can keep up with all the demands.

If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an OT? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
It’s very likely that I would still become an OT because it is a career that offers life-long learning and challenge. I always knew I wanted to work in health care in a capacity that would directly affect people’s quality of life. Being an OT has definitely allowed me to do that.

Has being an OT met your expectations? Why?
Being an OT has met and surpassed my expectations. I have had so much opportunityto learn from colleagues in my discipline and in other disciplines. At Kidspace, we’ve created a multi-disciplinary child development clinic that brings together OTs, PTs, Speech Therapists, Psychotherapists, and even developmental Optometrists, so we’re always learning from each other’s perspective on difficult problems. I have also made connections with families that last beyond their course of treatment and become long-term friendships.

What do you like most about being an OT?
I like working with colleagues who share my interest in making a positive difference in people’s lives. And I enjoy working with my young clients and their families to help them answer questions, solve problems and meet challenges associated with their developmental needs.

What do you like least about being an OT?
Paperwork. Between treatment notes and billing, I feel like I spend a lot of time at the computer that would be better spent with clients.

How did you decide to work in private practice (or group practice, etc.)?
I decided to create a private practice so that I could strike a balance between work and family. Starting Kidspace let me set my own schedule and arrange my workload so that I could also spend as much time as possible with my two young sons. Employment through a hospital or school district just wouldn’t have allowed me the flexibility I needed. It hasn’t been easy, but it has definitely been worth it.

Do you work with mid-level providers? If so, what kinds?
In the six years since we opened Kidspace, we’ve developed good relationships with a number of developmental pediatricians and other health care providers who have become regular sources of referrals for us. We also work closely with education specialists and school counselors who refer to us as well. Within Kidspace, we collaborate informally across therapy disciplines, and offer co-treatment services when appropriate.

Describe a typical day at work.
I generally work with five to seven families during my day. I see each family for 50-minute sessions. I also oversee our clinic, answer questions, speak with new clients, speak with people in the community, and address any issues that arise.

What kinds of activities do you engage in with your clients? What about the parents?
The kids engage in gross motor and fine motor activities that provide multi-sensory processing challenges. I give the parents activities for their family to work on at home.

On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work three days per week. I sleep seven to eight hours per night. I take two weeks of vacation per year.

Are you satisfied with your income?
Yes.

If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
It was manageable, but I’m sure glad I’m done paying them back!

In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Get ready for an interesting ride. Finding the right balance between your personal life and professional life is going to be a lot harder, and more rewarding, than you can imagine!

What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning OT studies/school?
Try to do as much volunteering and interning as possible so that you can really find the best fit for you in terms of type of population that you’d like to work with (peds, phys dys, mental health). There are so many options that it’s good to explore as many as possible.

From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Insurance companies. Their business model seems to be built around redundant paperwork and intentionally delayed payments. The number of hurdles parents have to jump in order to get services for their children is just unconscionable. Any time therapists spend pursuing insurance companies is time they could be spending helping kids. Insurance companies have developed a deeply adversarial relationship with their clients and with health care providers. They seem to have a formal business strategy around delaying and denying payment. Families and practitioners only have so many hours in the day to spend dealing with this stuff. The insurers have the infrastructure to stall forever. It’s a deeply flawed and unfair system.

Where do you see OT in 10 years?
I hope that we continue to have talented, creative and motivated professionals in the field so that OT can continue to grow. Developments like the possible inclusion of Sensory Processing Disorder in the upcoming DSM-V shows how far OT has come. And the field still has so much room for growth and innovation. I think in 10 years OT will be widely embraced as a very effective tool for promoting child development

What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I regularly speak about Sensory Processing Disorder to various groups, including physicians, psychologists, educators, and parents groups. We also attend special needs resource fairs in the Bay Area to support families in our community. We also regularly have volunteers working in our clinics in preparation for a career in OT, speech therapy, or other disciplines we offer.

How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
I like to play with my kids/spend time with my family. I like to read, hang out with friends, exercise.

Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them?
Yes, I have two kids and a husband. I have parents and in-laws nearby. We spend a good amount of time together.

Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing OT as a career?
It’s a great field that is rewarding, meaningful and fun. Go for it!

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