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Bridging the Gap: Christian Thomas’ Journey as an Occupational Therapy Intern at World Relief Memphis 

At World Relief Memphis, we are continually inspired by the incredible dedication and impact of our team members. One such individual who has made a significant mark on our organization and the broader community is Dr. Christian Thomas, our talented Occupational Therapy (OT) intern and now Health & Wellness Specialist. As a certified occupational therapist, Dr. Thomas uniquely approaches refugee resettlement, highlighting OT’s role in helping refugees regain independence and thrive in their new environments.

Passion for Occupational Therapy  

Christian knew she wanted to be an occupational therapist after shadowing different medical practitioners and exploring different avenues in the healthcare field. However, after traveling to Greece in 2019 on a mission to help refugees, she realized her passion for utilizing her skills in occupational therapy to serve refugee populations.  

Dr. Christian Thomas after graduation

Christian describes occupational therapy as “a profession where individuals get to promote therapeutic intervention, and help people participate and become more independent in their meaningful, daily occupations.” In the words of Christian, “…occupations are not just jobs, but it’s things that are meaningful and take up time in everyday life, like getting up and getting dressed or cooking your favorite meal.” 

During her doctoral program at The University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, Christian knew she wanted to support refugee populations who are experiencing occupational depravity. Occupation depravity refers to when an individual can no longer perform their occupations, such as going to the park or visiting with friends, due to a personal, medical, or social barrier. She claims, “refugees are occupationally imbalanced or deprived and so the goal of a resettlement agency is to be able to help them become self-sufficient and re-engage them in occupations.” 

Christian’s specialization in occupational therapy alongside her passion for refugee advocacy has equipped her with the skills to combat occupational depravity in the refugee resettlement process. 

“Occupations are not just jobs, but it’s things that are meaningful and take up time in everyday life, like getting up and getting dressed or cooking your favorite meal… Refugees are occupationally imbalanced or deprived and so the goal of a resettlement agency is to be able to help them become self-sufficient and re-engage them in occupations.” 

Christian Thomas
Christian & Coworker, Maria, at an airport arrival

Connecting with World Relief 

Christian’s interest in providing occupational therapy to refugees drew her to World Relief, as she wanted to work one-on-one with refugees and help them regain autonomy. Christian recognizes that “OT isn’t really known in the refugee resettlement realm, but its super needed.” After researching different resettlement agencies, she landed on World Relief and joined our organization as an academic intern while completing her doctoral program. 

Innovative Projects & Research

World Relief Client’s cross-stitching hobby

As an intern, Christian wanted to find ways to help refugees regain their occupations. She conducted interviews and surveys to provide research-based solutions to prevalent difficulties in the resettlement process.  

To begin, Christian conducted an interview with ten participants of five different nationalities to gauge what clients felt like they needed and felt like they weren’t getting. As a result, she compiled a community resource list based off the needs discussed. Christian explained that “connecting [refugees] to community resources will give them a little bit more autonomy and ability to see what’s out there and re-engage.” 

In addition, Christian also researched accessibility issues within the resettlement process. More specifically, she learned more about the different policies and protocols for ensuring that refugees with disabilities have access to accessible and accommodating housing options. Christian proposed creating meaningful, professional relationships with property management companies to secure accessible housing for participants.  

Lastly, Christian also researched the impact of trauma on participants and their mental health. These studies inspired Christian to lead workshops and training sessions about trauma-informed care and motivational interviewing, which are staples of occupational therapy.  

75% of refugees surveyed are occupationally deprived.

Research by Christian Thomas

Christian’s commitment to providing research-based solutions has catalyzed meaningful change within our office and community.  

Future of Occupational Therapy & Resettlement  

Christian emphasizes the importance of occupational therapy as a part of the resettlement plan. According to Christian’s research, 75% of refugees surveyed are occupationally deprived. Occupational therapy helps patients achieve autonomy by giving them access to their occupations. Christian says that occupational depravity is “one of those things that unless you open your eyes, you won’t see it.” 

Christian defending her Doctoral Capstone Project

What is Christian Doing Now? 

After her internship and receiving her Doctorate, Christian joined World Relief once again as a Health & Wellness Specialist! In this position, she aids clients with medical navigation. By helping set up appointments, get to the doctor’s office, and make well-informed medical choices, she empowers her clients to take charge of their health and wellbeing. In the future, she plans to utilize her OTD as a travelling occupational therapist.  

How YOU Can Make an Impact

At World Relief, we emphasize holistic wellness and the transformation of the whole person – mind, body and spirit. Christian’s contributions to our organization remind us why holistic support systems are so crucial in the resettlement process.  

There are many ways to serve others and occupational therapy is just one of them.

We offer many unique volunteer opportunities at World Relief Memphis, and we encourage you to contribute what you can. If you have an eye for design, we always need volunteers to help with setting up apartments for new arrivals. If you’re a good driver, we also need road runners to transport participants to appointments and English classes. The possibilities are endless! 


Check out our various volunteer opportunities to see what matches your availability and skills! Don’t see something you are passionate about? Contact us and let’s make a new opportunity!


Don’t have availability to donate your time? You can still make a big impact by donating monetarily or donating in-kind goods!

Share Skills

Are you like Christian and have special qualifications or skills you want to donate or share? Reach out to us to see how you can show love to the refugee and broader immigrant community.

For more information on how to get involved, please contact us. Together we can make change that lasts.

Writer: Camille Smith

Marketing & Communications Intern at World Relief Memphis 

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