Katelyn Loring is an Occupational Therapy Doctoral candidate at Tufts University. Katelyn spent the summer interning at Calmer Choice researching the efficacy of the organization’s virtual, adult mindfulness programs. You can read the results of Katelyn’s research study in her blog post.
We interviewed Katelyn to learn more about her background, interests, results of her research study, and plans for the future.
How did you become interested in Occupational Therapy as a career?
I was first introduced to Occupational Therapy about 10 years ago when my brother was 14 years old and experiencing health issues. He had limited mobility and through the work with persistent PTs and OTs, they were able to get him walking and functioning again. I always kind of had that experience in the back of my mind and decided to become an OT so that I could have that same kind of impact on other people like my family experienced.
Tell us about your academic career at Tufts University.
I’m in the first-ever Occupational Therapy doctorate cohort at Tufts University, which I started in June of 2019. I'm in a full-time, three-year Occupational Therapy Doctorate program and when I complete my studies, I will have earned the credentials, OTD. During my first two years, it was a mix of classes and on-site service-learning for hands-on experience. Coursework also includes Level One fieldwork, which are a little more intensive and involve working with different populations. I'm in my final year, where I'm working on my capstone with Calmer Choice, which was a 14-week intensive experience. Finally, I will complete two different 12-week fieldwork experiences - one in early intervention and one at a rehab hospital.
During my second year at Tufts, I served as the Vice President of the Graduate Student Council, so I worked with students in all different programs advocating for them by meeting regularly with my peers and with administration. Some of my efforts in this role included trying to help these peers navigate through the early COVID-19 pandemic. It was a great experience and allowed me to help form a community for my peers during such an abnormal time.
How you first heard about Calmer Choice?
Fiona Jensen came into my emerging practice class right before the pandemic started in February of 2020. She presented on Calmer Choice mindfulness programs and described how as a trained Occupational Therapist, she was able to start a non-profit. I was very interested in how Calmer Choice worked with children directly in schools and the impact of mindfulness, especially after beginning my own journey with mindfulness. My personal experience with mindfulness started when I took a 4-week course the previous fall in 2019. Fiona’s presentation to my class was around the same time I was doing what research professionals call a “scoping review”. With a scoping review, you analyze and really dive into the literature and research published on a specific topic. My topic was mindfulness for adults with intellectual disability and I presented it at the Massachusetts Occupational Therapy Conference. At the end of the semester, my peers and I submitted applications to work with different sites and organizations for our capstone project. I applied to work with Fiona and Calmer Choice, as mindfulness seemed like a perfect fit for my interest in research and working with communities.
How did you start to plan and prepare for your research study?
KL: I was matched with Calmer Choice in June of 2020. Initially, I thought that I’d be working with the programming with children in school settings, but quickly realized that given the pandemic and in-person teaching restrictions, that wouldn’t be the best use of my research time. As I was meeting with the Calmer Choice leadership team, it became evident that the organization was really adapting to the needs of the community and where they needed it most during this time of increased isolation and anxiety from the pandemic. Virtual programs for adults become a staple offering and with that pivot, it was decided that my research focus should be on adult programs and their efficacy. I started with a climate check survey that was disseminated to adults within the Calmer Choice community back in the fall of 2020 which helped us understand the needs of the community and what Calmer Choice was already doing to help meet those needs, as well as what people were interested in getting out of the organization’s programs from the adult perspective. Based on 51 climate check survey participants, we realized that adults were taking mindfulness courses to improve their resilience, reduce their stress, to become more mindful, and just improve their overall wellbeing. That feedback helped to focus the research study’s outcome measures. From Fall 2020 until June of 2021, I developed a research proposal through gathering information about the history of Calmer Choice and from current research that's out there about mindfulness, and in particular online mindfulness, as that was what I knew I’d be studying. To get the research study off the ground, I had to submit a proposal to the Tufts Institutional Review Board in February of 2021 to ensure that the research study was ethical and by the book. It took until mid-April for the IRB to approve the study. From there, I dove in and started researching one of Calmer Choice’s 8-week virtual mindfulness courses for adults that took place in late spring 2021.
What did you find in your dive into virtual mindfulness learning offerings offered these days?
The act of learning mindfulness has been expanding, especially through virtual services. The rationale behind offering online mindfulness learning opportunities is just the accessibility of it - anyone can do it from their own homes, it's a relatively low-cost intervention for people, but has significant effects. Right now, researchers are mostly trying to see if online mindfulness learning is equitable to an in-person mindfulness learning and whether people get the same things out of it, as if they were in-person taking the class. More research needs to be done and I think the research that we've started with Calmer Choice is a step towards understanding. Based on what I’ve found during this capstone study, online mindfulness learning does have great improvements on people who are participating.
How does mindfulness and occupational therapy work together?
For doctoral trained occupational therapists, like what I'm doing, we’re being trained in how to do program evaluation and how to do research. So that's one way that it fits in with this is knowledge of how to evaluate mindfulness programming. Also, more and more occupational therapists are using mindfulness techniques because it's a strategy to improve well-being and quality of life, and those are two things that OTs are really concerned with. We also try to develop habits and routines that will help you strive towards greater health, and that's what mindfulness is- a habit that becomes part of your routine and helps you strive towards greater health. A mindfulness practice is an intervention strategy that has such a huge impact, and you need relatively few tools to do it. Mindfulness is a practice that in theory can work for anyone, of any age, background, or status, so I see it as an awesome, universal intervention tool.
You worked with Calmer Choice instructors to facilitate focus groups. What did you learn from these folks?
My intention in researching Calmer Choices was to evaluate the mindfulness programming offerings, and I didn't feel like I could get a full picture of programming just from the participant side of things. I really wanted to hear from the people who are teaching these classes and their perspectives and so I thought the best way to do this would be an instructor focus group. Hearing their feedback was helpful to understand how they felt about how and what they taught, what supports they could use to be more effective in their teaching, and validate some of the data I collected from the adult participants in the 8-week course. The instructor focus groups helped me better understand Calmer Choice as a whole, and the culture supporting the organization. Instructors have incredible dedication and their drive to teach is supported by the impact they have on the lives of the participants.
You finished your internship by presenting your findings to the Calmer Choice Board of Directors of and staff leadership team. What were some of the key findings that you presented?
One of the most important findings found was that taking a Calmer Choice 8-week virtual mindfulness course, regardless of how many sessions attended, improved how often a person practiced mindfulness. On average, when a person started the course, they were practicing, less than once a week, but by the end of the course, they were practicing mindfulness on average four to six times a week. Taking this course is a huge step forward in incorporating mindfulness into one’s life and making it a healthy habit. Another important finding was that there were statistically significant improvements in well-being and resilience after eight weeks. It was an exciting and clear indicator that the Calmer Choice’s 8-week virtual course for adults does truly improve well-being and resilience, which are both in the course title. Participants reported improvements and impact on their everyday life. Some of the other interesting findings we found was reported stress went down over time, people really did improve their mindful awareness, and they all plan to continue practicing mindfulness in the future.
Throughout your internship, you were also trying to get an idea what it was like to be a part of the nonprofit. You examined and put your help behind lots of different aspects of our day-to-day operations. What were some of the surprising things that you learned about working for a non-profit?
My first takeaway insight is that I’ve realized how important relationships are and relationship-building is to the success of a non-profit. A lot of time is dedicated to connecting with board members, donors, stakeholders, community members, businesses, etc. Everyone in the office is constantly reaching out to hundreds of people non-stop, and it's those stakeholders that really keep Calmer Choice going by supporting its mission. Without these relationship-building efforts, Calmer Choice programs couldn’t happen, so that was an important lesson to learn. Also of note, is the dedication of the Calmer Choice staff - everyone is working way more than they should be and they put their whole heart and soul into Calmer Choice, making it the best that it can be. It was really inspiring to see. The staff and instructors don’t just do the bare minimum, they constantly are going above and beyond, because they just have so much love for the organization and they know that mindfulness works and can have an amazing impact on the lives of those in the community they serve.
Tell us about the exciting presentation you’ll be doing regarding your findings during your internship.
In December, I will be doing an oral presentation about my capstone research project and the findings with Calmer Choice at the Janet Falk-Kessler Distinguished Lectureship at Columbia University’s Medical School. I will also be presenting a research poster on these findings that Massachusetts Occupational Therapy Conference this fall. I am excited to share these findings with other Occupational Therapists and other people interested in mindfulness. It feels like a big accomplishment to get the results out there and continue to promote Calmer Choice mindfulness programs.
Once you complete your doctorate degree, what is your dream job in the field of Occupational Therapy?
That's a hard question, but I think I would love to do driving rehabilitation. One of my part-time jobs is as a bus driver and in one of my former jobs I used to train people on how to drive buses and help them get their license. Having that knowledge of training other bus drivers how to drive, I would love to start to train and work with people with physical disabilities and help them adapt to their cars with extended foot pedals, hand controls or whatever they need to drive and help them have greater access to the community as possible.
Katelyn, you live up near Boston and would more than often not commute up to 2 hours each way to reach our office on Cape Cod. We are incredibly grateful for this effort and your dedication to be in the office with us. You were able to spend some time in our little seaside world – so, we want to know? What was your favorite beach you went to over this summer?
Oh my gosh! I loved them all, but I really enjoyed the one in Dennis at low, low tide - Chapin’s Beach. It was my favorite and beautiful.
What do you want to tell us, that we haven’t asked you?
I think it’s important for the Calmer Choice community to know how welcoming your environment is. As soon as I started, I felt welcomed, supported, and included in the whole team and that had a big impact on me and my understanding of the organization and mission. I was included in team meetings and being asked my opinion. You all made me feel part of the team and not just, “oh, she’s just some researcher here for a little bit playing with data” but that I was actually part of the importance of what you were doing and helping to make an impact. It meant a lot.