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USC occupational therapists redesign lifestyles

Tessa Milman, left, and Camille Dieterle teach yoga at the USC Occupational Therapy Faculty Practice. (Photo/Philip Channing)

Most students can use a little lifestyle redesign. Whether they stress out too much or sleep too little, USC’s occupational therapists can bring the balance back to their lives.

Occupational therapy (OT) is a health care profession that promotes adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors and lifestyles. Private OT sessions are available for little or no charge to USC students who have enrolled in the USC Student Health Insurance Plan, have signed up for other insurance plans that provide coverage or have registered with Disability Services and Programs (DSP), part of the Division of Student Affairs.

OTs can help students manage time, improve focus, lose weight, quit smoking, reduce clutter, cope with headaches or optimize life balance. They can also treat physical disability or mental illness, or the aftermath of traumatic events, including strokes or accidents.

“OT is very client-centered, so we’re going to work toward whatever your goals are,” said Carlin Daley, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy who sees patients through DSP and the USC Occupational Therapy Faculty (OTF) Practice, a teaching clinic run by the university’s OT faculty.

Camille Dieterle, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy and director of the USC OTF Practice, added, “We help the students learn about themselves — learn their preferences, learn what maximizes their performance and also their overall happiness, learn what feels right to them.”

During the 2011-12 academic year, USC OTs saw approximately 70 students from the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. Some of the most common student goals are honing study skills, improving academic performance, managing stress, minimizing procrastination and reducing imbalance.

“OT at USC helped me get through my first semester,” said an undergraduate from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “If it wasn’t for the weekly meetings, I would have lost track of my personal goals and fallen behind too quickly to turn around. I owe this semester’s accomplishments and completion to OT.”

Another undergraduate, who arrived at the USC OTF Practice with a habit of smoking 15 to 20 cigarettes a day, reported cutting “down to four cigarettes per day.”

Over the course of six months of OT sessions, one graduate student lost 35 pounds.

“My therapist taught me very subtle changes I could make in my diet and encouraged me to engage in physical activities,” the student said. “My therapist doesn’t pressure me and is very encouraging, which is the opposite of what I’ve experienced in the past. She helps me adapt my routines to the demands of school, which has helped me lose weight throughout the year.”

For many students, OT sessions address what might be a universal problem — having too much to do and too little time to do it. An undergraduate from the USC School of Cinematic Arts explained that the OT sessions “equipped me with the tools and confidence to tackle everything from those inevitable, everyday stressors to the major pressures that come with having a fast-paced and career-driven way of life.”

USC’s occupational therapists achieve these successes by using Lifestyle Redesign, a technique developed at the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. This practice removes counterproductive habits and incorporates positive routines into daily life.

“Lifestyle Redesign is looking at overall lifestyle, habits and routines and helping people acquire more health-promoting habits,” Daley said. “It’s like a health coaching model in that way: We check in and see if they’re doing what they want to be doing and making progress in the way they want.”

For students and others, Lifestyle Redesign can reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, enhance quality of life and help achieve long-term goals.

“We use a problem-solving approach where we identify what it is that you want, where you see yourself in a month or two months, at the end of the year or at another point in time,” Dieterle said. “And then we’ll backtrack: OK, how do you get there? Let’s make a plan of what’s going to get you closer to your goals. Each week, we set a short-term goal that’s some sort of action you’re going to take. So it’s really about getting more out of your experience here at USC.”

In addition to private sessions, OTs provide workshops and treatment for students through collaborations with several other Student Affairs departments, including the University Park Health Center, the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion, Counseling Services, Recreational Sports, the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity, the Office of International Services, and Student Judicial Affairs & Community Standards.

USC’s OTs have offices in several locations: the USC OTF Practice on the Health Sciences Campus, the Student Union and Social Sciences buildings on the University Park Campus (UPC), and the Center for Occupation and Lifestyle Redesign at 2653 S. Hoover St.

In January, the OTF Practice will also have a space on the fourth floor of the new Roger and Michele Dedeaux Engemann Student Health Center on UPC. USC’s OTs will celebrate the new space on Jan. 10 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at an open house for all interested students, faculty and staff.

Unlike many other health professionals, occupational therapists don’t confine their practice to the four walls of their offices.

“We can see patients in their environments,” Dieterle explained. “We can go to their dorm rooms. We can go to the library. We can go to a coffee shop. It’s very specific to each individual’s situation and preferences.”

Regardless of where the OT sessions take place, students can apply what they learn for the rest of their lives.

“We try to encourage people to be their own OTs,” Daley said. “They’re developing these skills that they can take with them in any setting — thinking about their behavior, their routines and what they need to be successful.”

For more information about the OTF Practice and Lifestyle Redesign services, call (323) 442-3340, email or visit

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