For an occupational therapist, “occupation” means more than what you do at the office. It’s everything you do that defines who you are: cooking, reading, gardening, bicycling. A therapist’s goal is to help people to continue doing the things they want to do.

“We are most concerned with what people do every day,” says Betty Crepeau, associate professor of occupational therapy. “My mother had a stroke that affected her eyesight and kept her from sewing and cooking. She loves to be busy, and now she’s occupationally deprived. A therapist’s goal is to figure out ways for someone like my mom to do the things that are important to them or to find something else that will substitute.”


To that end, Crepeau tells her students, a therapist must understand a client’s life story. “All of our experience shapes who we are and what we’re interested in doing,” she says. “So does the place where we live. I’m trying to work out what it’s like to live in a place for a long time. How does living in a particular place help to shape people’s lives from an occupational perspective?”

Crepeau’s research has taken her to Stratham, where she and five students spent a year interviewing six elderly residents, exploring their day-to-day experiences. The oldest participant, Margaret Pearson Tate, was born in Stratham in 1907. The youngest, James Scamman, was born there in 1932. Their lives tell a story of a farming village that was once poor and isolated but changed over the course of a century into a wealthy suburban town. “Their understanding of Stratham runs deep within their spirits,” Crepeau says. “They are insiders in a way that those of us who have moved several times in our lives just cannot understand.”

Poverty was common in Stratham years ago. Everyone Crepeau and her students interviewed spoke about being poor. “There was no cash, but you had food, clothes, and a house, and everybody heated with wood, so you didn’t have to pay for oil,” Betty Batchelder, a resident, told one of the students.

Along with poverty came hard work. “I worked at home all the time. I had to get up in the morning and help milk the cows, and we had to bottle the milk and then deliver it,” Bob Berry, another resident, related. “I would come home and get the silage down every day and do other stuff. I was never let off the hook.”

Some of the elderly residents have found it difficult to accept the town’s rapid growth in recent years. “It’s hard to watch,” Batchelder said, noting that houses for newcomers now occupy the fields where she picked blackberries and tended her father’s cows.

Over the next few years, Crepeau plans to interview additional Stratham residents each semester. Her goal is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the town, its development over the past century, and how these changes have influenced the day-to-day activities of its residents and the meaning they make of their lives. “Having students interview the townspeople honors their lives,” she observes.

For Katie Joyce, a senior from Manchester, the Stratham project was a window into a world she had never experienced. “I interviewed Marjorie Goodrich, who has lived in the same house for her entire life,” Joyce explains. “It gave me a different perspective and made me more sensitive to the elderly. It really helped me to understand how important an occupation is to an older person.”

Joyce also appreciates the way Crepeau involved her students in the study. “She treated us not just as students, but as future professionals, as peers. She’s always interested in students’ suggestions, so you feel she’s really listening and caring. I’ve been fortunate to have her for a teacher.”

—Maggie Paine, UNH Alumni Publications

 

More Faculty Excellence

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Associate Professor, Elizabeth L. Crepeau

Elizabeth L. Crepeau with students Beth Estrella, Brin Shaw, Katie Joyce, Krysta Kenyon, and Gregory Morneau, Strtham Historical Society

Elizabeth L. Crepeau, associate professor of occupational therapy, School of Health and Human Services, with students Beth Estrella, Erin Shaw, Katie Joyce, Krysta Kenyon, and Gregory Morneau, Stratham Historical Society, Stratham, N.H.

 

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