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Speaker Spotlight: Tracy Bjorling

Tracy Bjorling is our latest Integrative Education presenter featured in our Speaker Spotlight series. Like many other great occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs), Tracy did not grow up aspiring to be an OTP. However, from a young age, she did have 2 prerequisites on her career search list. She knew she wanted to work in the medical or helping field, and she knew she wanted to work with children. When Tracy attended the University of Wisconsin - Madison (UW-Madison), she initially considered entering the nursing program before realizing nursing wasn’t the best fit for her. Eventually, her aunt who was a physical therapist encouraged Tracy to look into the OT program, knowing that the field would likely suit her personality and career aspirations. While strongly considering OT, but still wanting to keep her options open, Tracy obtained an undergraduate degree in child development, before ultimately going on for her master’s in occupational therapy at UW- Madison.

Early Mentors

Tracy describes her master’s program experience as “phenomenal.” While many Integrative Education speakers have shared stories of amazing and impactful mentors, few were as fortunate as Tracy to meet some of those mentors so early on in their OT journey. She described many of her professors as having a love of clinical practice which came alive in the classroom environment and others who were strongly committed to research. Both of those important perspectives allowed Tracy to see what could be possible in her own OT career. One professor and mentor, who was likely the most impactful in influencing her career trajectory was Dr. Julia Wilbarger. Dr. Wilbarger connected Tracy with her friend Sheila Frick, sparking a relationship that would quickly become a career partnership between the two.

Blossoming Career

After finishing her coursework at UW-Madison, Tracy completed vigorous fieldwork opportunities at Mayo Clinic in the neurorehabilitation unit and at the UW-Madison Children’s Hospital. She then took her newly gained experiences and education and soon began her work with Sheila. Tracy immediately felt that she had found a good match in Sheila. Tracy recognized how much she still had to learn as a new grad, and she valued the support and opportunities for ongoing learning and mentorship that Sheila provided. She was also drawn to the amazing clinical practice opportunity she found in working with Sheila. As the only 2 clinicians in their practice, their clinic space is located in a house that provides a warm and inviting feeling to their clients and their families. For the past 12 years, the two have been working together often co-treating their clients with rich opportunities for partnering, learning, and trialing new strategies.

Teaching Opportunities

Eventually Tracy’s work with Sheila led to opportunities to join her in teaching continuing education courses. Teaching was never part of her career aspirations and she admits that the idea of teaching was, at first, quite terrifying. However, Sheila’s early invitations to help her teach small aspects of the courses served as a good first step to teaching. Tracy soon began to look at the experience less as teaching, and more of simply sharing the work that she and Sheila were doing in their clinic with others - something she enjoyed immensely. She also grew to love the opportunities to share practical treatment strategies with others as well as supporting those strategies with current research.

Expanding Education

After several years of working and teaching with Sheila and after a nudge from her former mentor, Dr. Willbarger, Tracy felt ready to take the next step in her own growth and development. For the third time in her educational journey, she returned to UW-Madison to obtain her Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD). She saw the OTD program as an opportunity to not only learn, but to bridge the gap between clinical practice and research. While her heart was certainly more in clinical practice than in research, she recognized the need for more research within the field of OT and felt that it was an important step for her to take. The OTD program also afforded Tracy the opportunity to take the work that she and Sheila were doing with the Therapeutic Listening program even further. Her capstone project related to furthering the evolution of the program by expanding a proposed chapter for a future clinical concepts manual and further delineating the clinical reasoning process for the Therapeutic Listening program. This project allowed Tracy and Sheila to be more clear in their own teaching as well as provided guidance to clinicians in how to use Therapeutic Listening more effectively.

Tracy is also appreciative of her many opportunities to team with and be mentored by other OTPs as well as others in allied health professions. Mary Kawar has served as a mentor and educator to Tracy through the Astronaut Program and her other sensory integration work. Tracy has also been fortunate to learn from the teachings of Dan Hughes and his Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy training, as well as connecting with Maude LeRoux while attending the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children (ATTACh) conference.

Future Endeavors

Since completing her OTD, Tracy has taken what she has learned and applied it to both the clinical and teaching aspects of her career. Additionally, Tracy and her husband recently welcomed their third child into their family. Despite juggling a busy career with the often hectic schedules of her 12 year old, 9 year old, and toddler, she continues to look forward to opportunities for growth. Over the next five years, she would like to support Sheila in completing the stage two manual for Therapeutic Listening to better articulate the evolution of the program and continue to offer therapists support in implementing the program with fidelity. Additionally, she would like to continue to create more practical tools to help support therapists in their clinical work while ensuring that those tools are connected to research.

Tracy continues to live by the very same advice that she offers to other OTPs- to be curious and to wonder. By doing so, she has been led to new learning opportunities and incredible mentors that have shaped her work. She also encourages OTPs to seek out mentors who inspire them. Tracy notes the importance of finding a mentor whom you can not only learn from, but with whom you can build a relationship and support each other.

Course Offerings

If you would like to learn more from Tracy and Sheila, be sure to register for their upcoming 2-day course at Integrative Education’s 2023 Symposium: Course F: Developmental Roots of Trauma: A Sensorimotor Embodied Approach. This will investigate the neurobiological underpinnings of the dynamic interplay between sensory modulation, arousal, attachment, affect regulation, and play through the lens of trauma while offering hand-on labs, video and case presentations, and practical treatment strategies.



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