Integrative Education partners with leaders to bring you quality continuing education. One of the highly knowledgeable speakers we partnered with for the 2023 IE Symposium, Kelly
Beins, graciously shared her OT journey with us in this new Speaker Spotlight. Kelly’s course, Polyvagal Theory and Sensory Processing: Bridging Theory and Practice, is now available on-demand and is one you don’t want to miss!
A Curiosity for Learning and Helping Others
In speaking with Kelly about her life and career, it was immediately apparent that her curious nature, drive to ask questions and seek answers has strongly guided her career path.
Kelly fondly remembers the day she learned about occupational therapy (OT) as a high school student sitting in her family’s living room over 30 years ago. Her mother, who worked as a special education teacher, worked closely with occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) and shared her knowledge of the field with Kelly as a possible career option.
In addition to the career support she received from her mother, Kelly was also influenced by her high school guidance counselor. She was given a thick copy of a career book to explore and was encouraged to seek out “up and coming careers.” Armed with her new knowledge from her mother, Kelly paged through the book to find “Occupational Therapy'' and was pleased to discover that it was, in fact, an “up and coming career.” Kelly, who always loves a challenge, was also excited to see the admissions criteria listed as “competitive.” Despite her initial excitement, she had yet to discover what exactly OT was and what a career in the field of OT might look like.
Up until this point, Kelly’s aspirations had primarily focused on becoming a psychologist. However, she envisioned her work as a psychologist focusing mainly on assessment. As she began to read and speak with others about OT, she was drawn to the treatment aspect of the career. The thought of being able to focus her work more on helping others rather than just assessing their needs was what drew her to pursue OT further.
Kelly recognized early on the value of education beyond the classroom. As a college student pursuing her BA in psychology, she worked full time over summers at multiple psychiatric hospitals to see OT in action and learn as much as she could about the field. These experiences supported her acceptance into the OT program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where she went on to receive her Bachelor of Health Sciences in Occupational Therapy.
Early Career Journey
Like many new OTPs, Kelly found herself exploring a variety of settings. Initially, she took a job in geriatrics but soon realized it wasn’t where her passion lay. Following her initial draw to the field of psychology, she next accepted a position at the University of Maryland Institute of Psychiatry day hospital. In this setting, she was able to gain more experience working with a younger population, including adolescents. That led her to her next job at a community mental health center where she served as the Director of Child and Adolescent Services. There she facilitated the opening of an afterschool program and development of a respite program.
An Observation and a New Passion
During Kelly’s time at the center-based afterschool program, she frequently had the opportunity to observe children with emotional and behavioral challenges engaged in play. It soon became apparent that these children moved differently than other children. With this simple observation, Kelly realized that she and her team were missing a piece of the puzzle. On paper, the children in the program were receiving all the care they needed on a daily basis including intensive therapies, medications, and supportive families. Despite this, the children were still struggling, failing to make progress, and some were even at-risk of being removed from their homes to receive inpatient care. Soon after, Kelly attended The Out-of-Sync Child lecture by Georgia DeGangi and Carol Stock Kranowitz where she felt she had found the missing puzzle piece and her passion for sensory integration (SI) bloomed. She went on to become SIPT certified and has been combining SI and mental health services ever since.
Kelly quickly became dedicated to bringing SI into her work, no matter which direction her career took. After struggling with the administrative and insurance-based constraints of integrating SI practice into large hospital, residential treatment, and school-based settings, Kelly felt called to open her own private practice. In working independently, she felt the freedom to be able to fully engage in the type of work that she knew was going to be most beneficial to her clients. While there were several clinics in her area which offered OT services, none offered SI services. She sought to supplement the services that were already available and started out by offering sensory-based assessments and interventions within those existing clinics. Eventually, Kelly opened her first physical location and where she began offering assessments and parent consultations. Kelly’s business quickly grew in many ways including physical space, staff, and scope of services. Initially, Kelly offered comprehensive SIPT assessments and caregiver consultation and grew to offer Integrated Listening Systems (ILS) as her first form of direct intervention.
Introduction to Polyvagal Theory
Kelly’s involvement in ILs led her to a conference where Dr. Stephen Porges, Kim Barthel, and Dr. Norman Doidge were presenting. She was immediately drawn to Dr. Porges’ polyvagal theory and began immersing herself in the subject. The polyvagal theory “focuses on what is happening in the body and the nervous system, and explains how our sense of safety, and perception of danger or life threat can impact our behavior” (Unyte, 2023). Kelly began incorporating the theory into her clinical practice including the implementation of Dr. Porge’s Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP). During this time, Kelly also began making connections which led to invitations for speaking engagements. She saw a need for education surrounding SI and polyvagal theory in both the parent and clinical communities that she felt she could help fill by sharing her knowledge with others.
Another unique way that Kelly has supported SI and polyvagal theory education is by authoring two children’s books featuring the main character, Ovis the Sheep. Ovis Has Trouble with School and Ovis Has Trouble Eating offer an easy way to help parents connect with their children while educating about sensory differences. Kelly sees children’s books as an ideal way to build and share connection with young children.
Like so many others, Kelly’s clinical business was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This impact contributed to her decision to sell her practice and move on to the next step in her career with Unyte. As the parent company of both ILs and SSP, Kelly’s work with Unyte allows her to mentor others and facilitate the growth and impact of the polyvagal theory with these impactful auditory programs globally.
In Kelly’s course, Polyvagal Theory and Sensory Processing: Bridging Theory and Practice, she helps clinicians better understand Polyvagal Theory and explain its importance to working with people who have sensory processing challenges. As Kelly explains the polyvagal theory, much of her education focuses on the role of the nervous system and its strong impact on sensory processing. She recognizes that many OTPs have been taught that sensory systems are the root of behaviors, and her goal is to explain the unique and interconnected role the autonomic nervous system plays with the sensory systems and the other systems of the body. She explains that if the nervous system is rigid and dysregulated, a person may not have the capacity to even benefit from many sensory tools.
Kelly is also passionate about helping others fully understand the scope of regulation. This passion was discovered through mentorship & collaboration with Tracy Stackhouse and was guided by Tracy’s views on regulation and her SpIRiT© (Sensory processing/Integration Reasoning interactive Tool) model of clinical reasoning in pediatric OT. Kelly explains that regulation isn’t just about “activation” and “deactivation.” While sensory input can certainly impact activation and deactivation of the regulatory system, the polyvagal theory recognizes that regulation is also influenced by perception of safety or threat and the presence of social-emotional support and other capacities a child may or may not have achieved
While learning a new frame of reference can certainly be daunting, Kelly reassures us that we don’t have to fully understand the cause of the behavior, to have an impact, because the treatment is simply to use our vast therapeutic toolboxes to create safety for our clients. Additionally, she encourages OTPs to stay curious and to never stop learning about yourself and others. Kelly recognizes that early in her career she was focused less on staying curious and more on “getting it right.” Her journey of learning about polyvagal theory has contributed to her own ability to stay curious with clients without feeling the need to “fix things.” Be sure to check out Polyvagal Theory and Sensory Processing: Bridging Theory and Practice on-demand as you stay curious in your own journey.