Nationally, only about two percent of all Occupational Therapists (OT) work in the mental
health field. A new community partnership is helping Dominican University of California address
a growing need by providing OT students with hands-on experiences working in a mental health
Dominican’s Department of Occupational Therapy has partnered with A Broader Living
Experience (ABLE), a group home that serves nine residents with a strong focus on client-
centered care. ABLE clients have a broad range of intellectual and developmental disorders,
including seizure disorder and autism.
OT students participate in numerous rotations at Dominican with a wide variety of community
partners. Each rotation gives students experiences with a specific population, from eldercare to
working with children, says OT Academic Fieldwork Coordinator Evin Wallus.
“The purpose of these rotations is for our students to see the world through an OT lens,”
Wallus says. “They can dip their toe in and connect learning in the classroom with their work in
The OT Department’s partnership with ABLE came about after Wallus was invited to provide
some consultative services work at ABLE in order to optimize the care already being provided to
After four months of observation, along with training sessions with existing ABLE caregivers, Wallus
developed a training structure to support caregivers in their work.
Each semester the OT students work at ABLE, along with a team of Dominican nursing students from the School of Health and Natural Sciences.
Watch This Video To Hear Dominican’s Nursing Students Sharing Their Experiences Working At ABLE.
“Our OT students have had such incredible experiences at ABLE, and vice versa,” Wallus says.
“Our students built one-on-one meaningful rapport and relationships with residents - learning
about their history and discovering what’s meaningful to them.”
The OT students also work on functional goals with their clients, from physical activity to
medicine management and financial management.
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Elizabeth Weintraub ’24 worked at ABLE last spring for her first fieldwork experience as an
MSOT student. She says it was exactly the experience she was hoping for when enrolling in
Dominican’s OT program.
“My work at ABLE perfectly reflects an aspect of why this particular OT program attracted me
to apply: Dominican’s commitment to working with the community and their relationships with
community organizations in non-traditional settings,” she says.
The work also has inspired Elizabeth to work in non-traditional settings, including with patients
with developmental and mental health disabilities.
“I have a passion for serving others, especially those who have been historically or
systematically underserved, and there is evidence to support the fact that access to healthcare
of all types is a barrier to health maintenance and positive life outcomes, so I hope to work as
an OT in perhaps a non-traditional space in order to support equity and inclusion in my
At ABLE, Elizabeth observed what an on-site multidisciplinary approach to care can look like in
“I was given the opportunity to use my developing expertise, therapeutic use of self, and caring
curiosity to initiate interactions with the residents, both one-on-one and in groups, she says. “I
loved getting to know them, learning about what occupations are the most meaningful to
them, and getting to do many of those things with them at ABLE.”
Working in a group setting with residents who each were unique in their abilities and interests
made her fieldwork particularly rewarding.
“I was challenged, and I learned,” Elizabeth says. “And I experienced inner satisfaction each
time I was able to make a deeper connection or provide a resident with an additional
opportunity to engage in a meaningful leisure activity.”
The OT students also help take some of the burden off the overstretched ABLE caregivers by
running groups focused on meaningful activities – such as soccer, or music, or hiking physical
activity – that really “spark joy” for the ABLE residents.
“The idea is for the students to connect with residents and see what these residents have done
in their lives that they love and enjoy,” Wallus says. “The students work to engage the residents
with those activities. This benefits the residents and is very helpful for the caregivers – as it
provides some respite care for them.”
Photo above of Occupational Therapy student Amie Smith '23 (left) working with a client in the ABLE group home.