Cherie Rowett is a registered occupational therapist based in Adelaide South Australia. Cherie has much experience in building capacity with adults following acquired brain injury. She was employed in SAHealth inpatient and community-based rehabilitation units for several years, and completed project work including a consumer/provider partnered evaluation project and a qualitative research pilot project, before establishing her occupational therapy consultancy. From 1999 until 2019 she was also a lecturer and topic coordinator with a part-time teaching role at Flinders University – teaching within the Clinical Rehabilitation and Occupational Therapy courses there.
As well as providing occupational therapy services, Cherie brings to Heart Choice Enterprises her passion for celebrating and encouraging family carers. When carers can keep the spirit of caring alive with appropriate attention to our own self care too, it is easier for us to provide good quality care and then everyone in the equation wins and family life is enriched. Cherie has lifelong insights into the carer role having grown up with a younger sister with a congenital cognitive disability who needed our advocacy and support. She also walked alongside her own mother, and more recently her husband, during their palliative journeys.
Cherie brings an “occupational” view of well-being to her work (occupation is about more than paid work). This stems from the 1990s when Cherie completed a post-grad research degree at UniSA with Associate Professor Ann Wilcock as her supervisor. There were many rich discussions with Ann during those few years that influenced Cherie’s understanding of human nature and health and praxis, and she has been applying the concepts in her work with people ever since. The international field of occupational science was relatively new then – which Ann had co-founded from Adelaide with occupational therapy collaborators based in Southern California – so it was a gift to have such close professional association with Ann.
If you are curious about Cherie’s lived experience of the value of meaningful occupation in her own life, you are welcome to keep reading. I hope the backstory below gives you an understanding of why the Heart Choice Enterprises brand focuses on making life do-able. We all have a wealth of meaningful things to be done in our time on this planet – and often we attempt to blend so many activities and roles into into each day, week, month, year. Any disruptions to our ability to be on purpose with what we do – be they disruptions of a global or personal scale – can create feelings (individually or collectively) of being lost and bereft of meaning. What I know for sure from my formal training and my life experiences is that a meaningful blend and balance of activity is paramount to our quality of life. In my experience, life is simply more enjoyable and healthy when it feels do-able. And when life doesn’t feel do-able it is important to adapt our approach and find ways of making it do-able again.
A childhood growing up in Queensland, Melbourne, Perth and then Adelaide featured common childhood occupations regardless of the geography. There was always much outdoor play with siblings and other kids from the neighbourhood – all hanging out in each others’ large front yards and having fun riding our trikes and bikes, go-karting, chasing each other or making up rule-filled action games and ball games. Indoors there was Lego to build, drawings to be done, and dolls to dress or groom or use in role-plays. In the backyard we had a trampoline and a “jumping board” that had been recommended by therapists for extra sensory input for my sister. And like most other households by then, a television set was nestled into the lounge-room – so there was easy entertainment available in the evenings. With just one screen in the house, television programs were usually viewed together as a family. Other activities of childhood included board games like Monopoly and Scrabble, books and poetry to read, play dates and sleepovers with close school friends. There were pet birds and cats to care for, dancing lessons and piano lessons with performances and concerts, swimming and life-saving lessons, and trips to the beach in the heat of summer. There were times to keep the noise down so as not to wake our shift-working father whose sleep routine was often different to the rest of us. And with a mother who had been a school teacher before becoming a full-time parent and home-maker there was always due attention to school homework in the mix, plus her adult ear was readily available for discussing and unpacking our life’s adventures and scrapes.
Every couple of years we travelled interstate – usually by car – to visit our relatives in Queensland. These journeys brought a lasting appreciation of the vastness and beauty of the Australian landscape. During these visits Nana taught me to crochet and knit. She and Pop also showed us how to play “Bridge” and other card games, which became an activity for all three generations to enjoy together. Sometimes in the evenings we played records and my sister and I would dance around the lounge-room together while the adults talked. Another childhood memory was commencing a part-time paid job on the weekends at the local shopping centre near our home in Perth, which at age 14 felt like a mini ‘growing up’ milestone.
How fortunate to have had the liberty and resources to engage in so many occupations of choice as a child and youth – to constantly experience the healthful cycles of activity and rest, and to gain such a broad sense of competence, skill and praxis. Looking back I notice that every time we shifted to live in a different state of Australia it was through engaging in shared activities and conversations that connections to people and place formed – and from that process of participation and connecting, a sense of belonging emerged anew each time.
The occupations of childhood gave way in due course to various new hobbies and pursuits in adulthood -such as social tennis, voluntary work with children, bushwalking and camping, art lessons, yoga, reading, sewing, partner dancing, choir singing, and mixed basketball. These were all evening or weekend pursuits around full-time work roles, post-graduate studies, and the shared family carer role for my sister in the mix. And as time kept marching my routines became more focussed on the home front and in my local community as I engaged in the valued and transforming roles of married life and motherhood.
Activities of a spiritual nature have always held meaning for me. In childhood it was the activities of prayer, letter writing and phone calls that kept my role of grand-daughter alive in the long gaps between interstate visits. Whenever offering prayers from the school chapel in Perth for the wellbeing of my grandparents, it felt like my intentions were able to instantaneously reach across the whole breadth of Australia to where they lived north of Brisbane. During overseas travel as a young adult it was remarkable to notice – everywhere I went and across many spiritual and religious traditions – the human desire to acknowledge divinity and deities by creating beautiful places of worship. My own connection to spirit has grown over the years by following my curiosity and search for meaning. The wholistic concept of mind and body connection was encountered in yoga classes and deepened during prenatal and postnatal yoga classes with Wendy Samek. The “A Course in Miracles” perspective on egoic and spiritual dualism was explored in workshops with Michael Dawson. The innovative “Living Attributes” system for social and spiritual synergy and for identifying and supporting one’s life purpose has been particularly influential, with helpful tools for everyday life being acquired in workshops and ‘circles’ with the author of the system – Elizabeth Ellames. These activities have all progressively deepened my understanding of my spirit and purpose, and are another example of meaningful activities that align with human occupational nature and biological capacities.
This overview of valued activities from childhood into adulthood might help demystify the broad concept of ‘occupation’ – and how human occupation can support health and well-being. Hopefully it has demonstrated the link between “doing, being, belonging and becoming” over time – which is how Ann Wilcock saw the significance of human occupational nature. What each person finds meaningful to do, what they aspire to be doing in future, and the particular blend of chosen activities and roles in their life at any given point, will vary between individuals – with some influence from local sociocultural norms. What is important to our health, well-being and development wherever we live is that we get the chance to fulfil our central human need to choose and engage in occupations that create a personally meaningful life.
No doubt by now you would be feeling this “Meet Cherie” tab has delivered a very indepth introduction indeed – so if you have hung in there to this point – fabulous! There is an amazing wealth of experiences in every person’s lifetime that influences who we each become and what we each have to give. I hope I get to hear your story too in the near future.