Dr. Teresa May-Benson is the next Integrative Education Symposium speaker featured in our Speaker Spotlight series. This spotlight will give you a look into Teresa’s rich background including her own educational journey and her role as an educator to others. It will also offer a sneak peek into her upcoming virtual IE Symposium course, Praxis and Executive Functioning: Connecting Motor and Cognition.
See also: Occupational Therapy
Teresa’s introduction to occupational therapy (OT) came over 40 years ago when she was a junior in high school. When exploring career options, she was initially drawn to the veterinary field. However, knowing that she would be footing the bill for her education, the 8 years of schooling felt a bit daunting. As she began to expand her search, her mother recommended that she explore the field of physical therapy (PT). Heeding her mother’s suggestion, Teresa took out the World Book Encyclopedia to learn more about PT. As she came to the end of the article, she read the words “See also: Occupational Therapy.” Having never heard of it, she flipped the pages to the OT section of the encyclopedia and was immediately drawn to the idea of helping others through the use of activities and crafts. Soon after reading the article, Teresa called her local hospital and got connected with one of the occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs). The OTP shared more information about the field with Teresa and even gave her some chapters of Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy - 5th Edition (currently in its 13th edition!) to read. Her interest in OT grew and she developed an interest in specializing in mental health. She quickly decided that OT was, in fact, the right choice for her.
Beginning of an Educational Journey
Teresa applied, and was accepted into Ohio State University (OSU) after graduating valedictorian of her high school class. Despite OTPs requiring only a bachelor's degree at the time, Teresa entered college with aspirations to someday obtain a doctorate degree (which she would, in fact, go on to do someday). While Teresa started OT school with a strong interest in the field of mental health, it ended up being her courses in sensory integration (SI) that truly captured her interest. At the time, OSU required fieldwork placements in both physical disabilities and mental health, while offering an optional 3rd fieldwork placement in a specialty area. Knowing that she wanted to eventually pursue her master’s degree with a concentration in SI, Teresa began looking into who was conducting the current research in SI. This search led her to Dr. Jane Koomar, who would become her most influential mentor. Teresa was fortunate enough to obtain a 3rd fieldwork placement with Jane in the Cambridge Public Schools.
Early Career and Continuing Education
After completing her third fieldwork placement, Teresa accepted her first OT position in New Hampshire at a rehabilitation facility for adults with developmental disabilities. During her time in New Hampshire, she also had the opportunity to work in schools and an early intervention program. After a couple of years in New Hampshire, Teresa decided it was time to pursue her master’s degree and she set her sights on Boston University (BU). She reached out to her former fieldwork supervisor, Jane Koomar, and asked her to write a letter of recommendation, which she gladly agreed to do. Unbeknownst to Teresa, in the time between asking Jane to write the letter and the time she sent in her application, Jane accepted a role as Director of Admissions for the occupational therapy program at Boston University. Unsurprisingly, Jane accepted Teresa’s application and she entered the program which would be a seminal part of her OT journey. Jane served as Teresa’s thesis advisor for her research on gravitational insecurity and the subsequent development of their Gravitational Insecurity (GI) Assessment. Additionally, during Teresa’s time at BU, Jane received a grant from the Shriver Center in Boston to implement a series of courses related to SI in the schools. Teresa was able to take those courses while also taking the courses required to achieve her Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) certification. In addition to the wealth of SI knowledge she was able to obtain during her time at BU, she was also fortunate to learn from an incredibly influential team of professors including Sharon Cermak, Laird Cermak, Gary Kielhofner, Anita Bundy, and Anne Fisher.
Making a Difference in SI
Upon completion of her master’s degree, Jane offered Teresa a job at her private practice, Occupational Therapy Associates (OTA). Teresa went on to serve OTA in various roles for the next 32 years. During this time, Teresa also began her teaching journey, starting as a SIPT certification teacher for Sensory Integration International. Additionally, she delved into research with Jane, going on to serve as the Research Coordinator for OTA. Her foray into research eventually led Teresa to fulfill her longtime goal of obtaining her doctorate degree. Around the same time, Jane and Anne Trekker established the Sensory Processing Institute for Research and Learning (SPIRAL) Foundation as a mechanism to support their research and educational efforts. Teresa went on to become the Research Director of SPIRAL and eventually, in 2012, the Executive Director. During her time with SPIRAL, Teresa maintained various roles at OTA including Clinical Director and Clinical Specialties Director. Additionally, she took on adjunct faculty positions at Tufts University and the University of Indianapolis.
A Time of Change
After many busy and fulfilling years with OTA and SPIRAL, Teresa and her husband, Adrian, set their sights on settling into a slower lifestyle and relocating to Adrian’s home state of Pennsylvania. In 2018, Teresa bought out a small private practice in the Philadelphia area. She began commuting monthly between Boston and Philadelphia as she transitioned out of her roles at OTA and SPIRAL and began to establish her new practice, all while continuing with her various teaching duties. In the midst of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Teresa completed her tenure with OTA and SPIRAL and she and Adrian began their search for a home in the Philadelphia area amid a wildly competitive housing market. In November 2020, one month after finally moving into their new home, they received the devastating news that Adrian had esophageal cancer. Over the next several months, Adrian underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments before tragically passing away in May 2021. With that, not only had Teresa’s personal life taken a completely unexpected course but so too had her professional life. Rather than slow down her career as she had previously planned, she was met with the decision to take on additional teaching responsibilities as well as continue to grow her private practice, Occupational Therapy Resources (OTR) Inc.
Over the past year and a half, Teresa has held part-time faculty and consulting roles at Widener University in addition to shifting OTR Inc. to a practice based out of her home. She recently began the process of renovating her garage to a treatment space where she plans to see clients, hold trainings, provide intensive treatments for out-of-state clients, and run treatment intensives for other therapists.
In addition to OTR Inc., Teresa owns her own education company, TMB Education. She has embraced online teaching in the wake of the pandemic and has enjoyed reaching a broader audience through the virtual platform. However, she is looking forward to getting back into in-person teaching later this year, both domestically and internationally. In addition to teaching continuing education courses, Teresa loves to provide mentorship to therapists around the world. While sharing the vast knowledge she has been privileged to learn with others, she also reminds mentees of the importance of the history and foundations of OT, stressing that what’s new isn’t always what’s best.
Here at Integrative Education, we’re excited to be hosting Teresa virtually at our upcoming IE Symposium as she presents Course C: Praxis and Executive Functioning: Connecting Motor and Cognition on Thursday, February 23, 2023. This course will help attendees understand the meanings and differences between praxis and executive functioning. Teresa explains that several decades ago, the definition of executive functioning included just 4 main functions of the prefrontal cortex (attention, memory, impulse control, and judgment). Over time the scope of professions addressing executive functions has grown and so has the definition. Literature now includes 30 different definitions of executive functioning and defines 32 different functions associated with executive function. Teresa’s course will cover the problems associated with the construct, the vast number of definitions, and the problems with assessing executive function. Additionally, the course will look closely at the connection between praxis and executive functioning, including how they fit together, and how they overlap, primarily through the lens of the timing in which each of these functions occurs. Finally, the course will address the assessment and targeted treatment of praxis and executive functioning. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to spend the day learning with Teresa!