Meet Jess Banda: coach with an OT background
Thanks to some coincidences, I’ve recently gotten to know a coach, the founder of The Banda Strength Institute, Jess Banda. As it happens, Jess also has some occupational therapy background. Jess was kind enough to return my plea to answer some questions and here’s the interview. Especially interesting to occupational therapists, but also some wise words for all people working with well-being and health. As Jess says, it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people. That’s just what I’m doing getting to know him. 🙂
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Jess Banda, I’m a strength coach and licensed massage therapist. My practice is located in Mystic, Connecticut (where the Julia Roberts movie “Mystic Pizza” was filmed). However, thanks to the internet, I am able to provide my expertise to people located beyond my immediate area. Currently, my practice has clients across 9 different countries.
I started in the strength and conditioning field in 1987, when I joined my first gym, and eventually was hired as a trainer. After university, I joined the US Navy, where I was a Deep Sea Diver. It was during my US Navy service that I developed my methodologies for rapid strength and conditioning development. I was fortunate to travel to numerous countries, which afforded me the opportunity to meet with coaches from around the world and not only discuss training, but actually spend time with them “under the barbell.”
You are also an occupational therapist. What made you interested in studying ot in the first place?
While I studied occupational therapy in university, I did not complete my studies in the field. It was during my last few semesters that I made the faithful decision to eventually seek a career in strength and conditioning. At the time, I knew numerous occupational therapists working for the state of Texas, who were extremely frustrated by all the bureaucracy. In conversations with them, they all revealed the same thing: too many cases and not enough time to devote individual care and attention.
Initially, I was attracted to occupational therapy because it seemed to combine 2 fields that intrigued me, social work and medicine. As you know, being an occupational therapist, you have to be extremely well versed with a host of medical conditions and disabilities, as well as the medication and therapy aspects. I always felt drawn to occupations that allowed me to help people.
When did you graduate as an occupational therapist and what kind of experience do you have working as an ot?
Though I am not an occupational therapist, I do provide similar services for some of my clients. For instance, this past year, I have been working closely with two young adults who suffer from epilepsy and anorexia. One of them is in high school and the other is in university. For these clients, I educate the people (professors, school staff, etc) who will have contact with them, as to how to best provide for them and support them.
Why did you decide to focus on something outside your ot education and are you able to use some ot knowledge in your current job?
I looked outside of occupational medicine for a few reasons, but mostly because I wanted to ensure I had enough time to treat each client as an individual and not as a “disorder.” For instance, one of my friends, who’s an occupational therapist, is currently working with five individuals with epilepsy, but each one has a different set of needs. If my friend, who works a private practice, was working for a local or state government, he wouldn’t have the time to treat each case as an individual. Instead, he would have to treat his cases based on generalizations based on clinical descriptions of their disability.
One other reason for going outside of occupational therapy was what I consider the abuse of medicine by some doctors. In the US, I believe doctors are too quick to reach for the prescription pad. I would often see friends and clients who were put on a course of medication by a doctor, but did not have a plan to get off these medications. In the majority of instances, these people were put on medications for a “life sentence”. It was this observation which started me on my quest for knowledge in the nutraceutical field. When I work with clients who are on medications, the first thing we do is to develop a plan to provide their body with the nutrients it needs to heal itself, so eventually, their doctors can take them off medications. Fortunately, my practice is associated with nutritionally orientated doctors who keep an open mind.
Can you imagine ots working on some areas that they are not already working (such as health promotion, prevention, lifestyle coaching etc. I don’t know how it is in Connecticut!)?
I believe most occupational therapists are limiting themselves when it comes to their role in health care. Due to the increasing world-wide obesity epidemic, occupational therapists are starting to work with people who are extremely overweight and suffering from a host of related complications. For instance, I know of an occupational therapist that was hired to work with a client who weighed over 360 pounds (163 kg) and was having issue with their mobility. Together, they were able to re-design her house and work space to assist her with her limited mobility. The occupational therapist had to use techniques usually reserved for those with amputations or confined to the use of walking implements.
I believe the biggest impact occupational therapist have, is on prevention. By nature of the occupation, occupational therapist deal with clients afflicted with debilitating conditions and they can use these stories to “shock” people, to prepare them for what they might eventually have to prepare for it they do not take responsibility of their health.
What do you think is the uniqueness or strength of an occupational therapist as a therapist professional?
All successful occupational therapists share the same strengths”: the ability to multi-task, to see the “big picture,” are compassionate, and tenacious. When working with clients, you must take their different environments and their potential hazards into consideration. This requires the unique ability to bring together multiple factors in a short amount of time.
What do you dream of achieving through your work or how do you think you’d want to make a difference in the world?
Regardless of limitations, I want my clients to realize they are much stronger emotionally, physically and mentally, than they usually believe. Unlike most of my colleagues, I want to become eventually become dispensable to them. I’m like a parent that teaches and nurtures their children, preparing them for the day they start to live life on their own.
Is there something else you’d like to say to the blog readers, especially ots?
One of the reasons of my success is that I surround myself with like minded professionals. I created a network of the most successful doctors, physical therapist, psychiatrists/psychologist, and nutritionists, people to whom I can refer my clients. It’s vital that you establish relationships with people you trust.
It’s also vital to keep an open mind. What matters is that your clients/patients feel better about themselves and their conditions…regardless of the techniques used.