Everything I know about life, I learned from OT
April 20, 2022
by Global Initiatives Team
By Josh Digao, Post-Professional Master’s Student
Editor Alison Chang and Vanessa ElShamy
Entry-Level Professional Master’s students
I am from a country that still has, at its very core, patriarchal values. Not to say that the Philippines is a backwards country, but I and a lot of the pre-social media generation Filipinos were raised to believe that men were supposed to act a certain way. When you are raised in such an environment, it becomes what you believe to be right and wrong. Growing up, I felt trapped in a box that dictated how I should think, act, and speak in order to be accepted as a tunay na lalaki (real man). “Don’t care too much”, “Don’t show your emotions”, “Never let others tell you you’re wrong.” In my mind, being this arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring person was what being a man meant. But I struggled with that belief; I did not want to align myself with that archaic idea of a “real man.” It was not until I took up OT that I learned I did not have to.
It was in OT school, the pontifical and royal University of Santo Tomas, that I met some of the strongest and most wonderful people who helped me unlearn my ideas of toxic masculinity and made me the person I am today. The first of which was a professor that tried her best to instill in her students the value of being kind. A Mabuting OT (kind OT) - that is what she wanted us to be. For her, it did not matter as much that you knew all the therapeutic techniques in the book, or that you could name every muscle, bone, or nerve in the human body. What mattered was that when faced with a client, you would treat them with the utmost respect and compassion, regardless of status, age, or ability. “It’s better to be the kindest therapist than the smartest therapist” is what she would always tell us. It was not until I encountered my first few clients that I realized just how right she was. Clients, and even their family members, responded best to therapy when they felt that their autonomy and personhood was respected and cared for.
The second lesson was that of empathy. This one I attribute to the remarkable group of humans I call my friends. I have been lucky enough to be around people who are deeply loving, sensitive, and emotionally mature. Through them, I learned that in order to truly understand the emotions of others, we need to be attuned to our own. However, before I could learn to comprehend my emotions, I had to allow myself to first feel them. This realization would come to not only help me in my personal growth, but in my professional growth as well. In clinics and hospitals, I would often encounter people at their lowest points. During those moments, I realized more than ever the importance of being empathetic to other people’s struggles.
The last lesson came from my clinical instructors during my internship. Being new to the field, I was largely unconfident in my skills and abilities. I had no experience, and on top of that, the knowledge I was heavily relying on was purely theoretical. But when my clinical instructors (all of whom were amazing OTs) gave me feedback, they would focus on what it was that I did well. They recognized my strengths first, and that gave me the foundation that I needed to develop my own professional identity. I learned not only to accept the person I was, flaws and all, but to also be confident in what I bring to the table.
I believe that OTs are some of the most incredible people out there. The kindness and wisdom that I have seen from every single OT I have met continues to amaze me. Though I consider myself to be a deeply flawed person, they have taught me that the person I am is enough. I have learned that the only way to be a “real man” is to be true to yourself. As I am currently in the process of unlearning outdated values from my childhood, I know that perfection is not my goal; kindness, understanding, and acceptance are. If we extend these values toward ourselves, we will realize that at the end of the day what really matters is we are all trying our best - and we can already be proud of that.