Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Remember your History of Occupational Therapy course in which you learned about how your future profession was rooted in the moral treatment and arts and crafts movements? Well, guess what, crafts are back in style and they still pack a therapeutic punch. It’s time to give them a try or to take them out of storage. Here’s why:

1) Crafts are cool and contemporary. People of all ages and backgrounds are crafting at home, in classes, at parties and in bars. They spend time sharing craft ideas via Internet sites such as Pinterest and Etsy.

2) Crafting can improve motivation and outcomes. Research shows patients who are working to increase their strength and functional performance will work harder and longer if there is a meaningful outcome attached to their efforts.

3) Producing a valued object can completely revise a person’s view of himself or herself. One of my favorite experiences is enjoying the expression of wonder crossing my clients’ faces as they realize they have made a fabulous product, whether it is a wooden tool box, a mosaic plant stand or a leather comb case. You know the look: it’s priceless.

4) Others’ views of a person with disability change when they see tangible evidence of competence. What is sweeter than the compliments of family and friends when a client emerges from OT with a well-made item that he or she has created? The question, “Did you make that?” always results in huge smiles of pride. “Will you make one for me?” just adds to the joy.

5) Crafts facilitate a patient’s motor skills. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine any crafting process that does not involve an array of bilateral fine motor skills, not to mention that just by positioning the work area one can evoke standing, weight shifting, shoulder movement and gross motor responses.

6) Crafts offer an array of highly gradable cognitive challenges: following instructions, making decisions, identifying and correcting errors, designing and creating patterns, etc. When a craft is pitched well, clients’ experiences flow.

7) Working on a repetitive craft task such as lacing, sanding or tiling can sooth and help one practice organizational skills. I consistently have seen agitated, overactive clients become calm and focused once they were involved in a craft. A sensitive teenager with autism spectrum disorder learned to enjoy bead work to relax after school, and she produced beautiful pillows, purses and other items. An anxious little boy calmed himself with origami during family outings to church and the bowling ally.

8) Crafting can provide an effective backdrop for meaningful therapeutic conversation and practicing social interactions. I have seen patients develop a sense of belonging with their craft group. Opportunities for helping, accepting help, teaching and supporting one another occur naturally in these sessions. Sensitive topics can bubble up easily and participants talk about personal concerns more easily when the focus of attention is diffused by the tasks at hand.

9) When a craft is pitched well, clients experience flow, with resultant relief from anxiety or boredom.

10) Using crafts in your sessions will set you apart from other colleagues on the team. Sure, you may take some teasing about why you always seem to have paint on your hands and bags filled with craft materials, but your patients will be eager to come to sessions. Wear your craft apron with style and smile knowing that, at heart, your teammates really just wish their sessions were as much fun as yours.

You may wonder, as many of my OT students have, what to do about clients who feel crafts are undignified or childish. This is where your skills can shine. Take care to identify and prepare projects that are pitched at the just-right level for challenge and time needed and that result in age-appropriate, attractive products. Spend some time looking for ideas and adapting them to fit your clientele. Consider safety and durability issues so the client’s product can actually be used. If you cover these bases, your craft-based sessions should be exciting and effective.

A few resources to get you started:

FaveCrafts –

Factory Direct Craft Supplies –

Nasco –

Pinterest –

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