"Occupation contributes to an individual's personal sense of identity" (Creek, 1997). Occupation encompases three areas: self care, productivity, and leisure. These areas differ from individual to individual. For example, productivity for a child is considered play whereas for an adult, it can range from paid work to volunteer work to homemaking. It is the job of an occupational therapist to ensure that each person achieve their maximum potential in their personal occupation. This is ultimately achieved through the use of activity. "Activity is a tool for exploring and learning about our own potential" (Finley, 1998) and is used as a means to satisfy an individual's physical and psychological need. As a therapist, one should analyze all aspect s of an activity, including physical elements (i.e. sensory and motor skills), socio-cultural meanings (i.e. attitudes and symbolic meanings of the activity), cognitive aspects (i.e. memory and attention, etc.) and intrapersonal and interpersonal componen ts (self esteem, self confidence, and relationship skills) before implementing it as a therapeutic media. Also, a good activity should take into account a client's interests as well as be adaptable and gradable. Taking all the previously mentioned compo nents into consideration, we have decided that cooking would be an excellent therapeutic activity for all three of our clients. Cooking can simply be defined as "preparing food for eating by subjecting it to heat, boiling, baking or frying, etc" (Webster 's Dictionary, 1980). The process of cooking involves choosing and planning what is to be prepared, obtaining ingredients, organizing your environment for maximum efficiency, effectively carrying out the sequence of steps involved in the chosen recipe. As well, comprehension of safety, time limits, operation of appliances and usage of utensils are also necessary. Factors such as time frames, delays and safety precautions, etc. are highly variable depending on the food being prepared.
Individuals cook for a multitude of reasons which are influenced by individual, societal and cultural attitudes. For example, for most housewives, cooking is an integral part of their primary productivity role. However, for some individuals, cooking is done as a leisure activity, while for others, it is simply done to fulfil a biological need. In some cultures, cooking is a means of bringing people together, as it is an important part of cultural and religious celebrations.
Although there are many variations depending on the type of food prepared, common criteria for success can be determined. Cooking skills and familiarity with a particular recipe highly increases chances of a "tasty" outcome. These skills include knowled ge of appropriate cooking utensils and common cooking terminology. The careful following of recipe instructions and attentiveness to items being cooked will also lead to success. Lastly, choosing recipes appropriate to skill level and possession of adeq uate motor and sensory abilities are required.
Cooking has therapeutic value physically, cognitively, socially and intrapersonally. Physically, cooking requires good ROM in shoulders, fingers, wrists, elbow, neck, as well as good overall balance. Adequate muscle strength is needed in upper limbs for lifting, mixing, cutting and chopping. Furthermore, sensory awareness is important in considering safety while dealing with hot and sharp objects. The therapist can select recipes that vary in muscle strength and RO M required, providing the client with increasing challenges as their physical abilities improve. Cooking lessons may also teach the value of good nutrition, thereby improving overall phsyical health. As well, cooking requires problem solving through cognitive integration. Cooking can teach and enhance the skills of sequencing, time management, versatility, memory, attention and concentration. Sequencing involves planning, organizing and understanding how and in what order to carry out the required steps. Time management is needed to allow completion of a task w ithin a given time frame. Versatility is important in modifying recipes and techniques once the basic skills are aquired. Concentration is needed, as the complexity of new recipes increases. Attention is important when several tasks are being accomplis hed at one time. Lastly, memory (long term, short term and immediate) are important in remembering the sequence of steps, how to carry them out, time limits, and safety issues, while keeping in mind the end product of the activity. Cooking can develop intrapersonal skills such as self-esteem, competence, and insight into one's own abilities by providing a sense of accomplishment in creating a satisfying meal. Cooking with others can provide the opportunity develop social skills. Furthermore, cooking enables an individual to expand their social networks by hosting and attending social gatherings such as potlucks, bake sales, et c.
The following three case studies illustrate how cooking can be a therapeutic activity in many diverse situations.
The art of cooking encompasses a wide variety of skills and techniques and is an interesting and rewarding activity for a diverse group of people. Through subsequent consultations and repeated sessions, the benefits of using this activity in achieving al l three client's treament goals can be assessed. Cooking sessions are intended to facilitate maximal occupational functioning which enable these clients to face daily challenges in everyday living. After all, "people, through the use of their hands, as they are energized by mind and will, can influence the state of their own health" (Reilly, 1962).
Creek, Jennifer. Occupational Therapy and Mental Health 2nd Edition, 1997, Churchill: New York
Esmail, Shaniff. Occth 209 Lecture Manual, 1997. University of Alberta: Edmonton
Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, 1980, Simon and Schuster: New York