Integrating the Knowledge of Female Biorhythms into a Women’s Health OT Practice
An Interview With Janelle Gullan, BOccTher(Hons)
Janelle Gullan is an Australian occupational therapist with additional bodywork training who supports people to get out of their head and connect to their body so they can move through mothering transitions with self-love, confidence, and vitality. With a focus on pelvic health, mental health, and menstrual cycles, she explores rites of passage and the ways feminine transitions impact roles, relationships, participation, and joy. Her work brings together wellbeing for the head, heart, and womb.
In this interview, Janelle shares how her career in women’s health evolved to include aspects of female biorhythms, how she sought out her specialized knowledge, what this aspect of practice has imparted upon her, and how she envisions the future of OT practice to include these aspects of care.
How did your career as an OT bring you to working specifically with blood rites of passage, menstrual cycles, and all things womb awareness?
It was my own mothering journey that led me to search for more holistic approaches to support birth recovery and mother transitions. I encountered some bodywork practices that had an enormous impact on my wellbeing; womb and pelvic bowl wisdom sat at their core. After training in these modalities and recognising their congruence with occupational therapy theory, I started to bring more menstrual awareness into my pelvic health and mental health interventions. My clients have then taught me so much from their personal experiences, particularly how mother transitions follow the guiding rhythm of our menstrual cycles and the ways that our mothering experiences imprint back into our menstrual cycles as a mechanism for integrating and honouring these stories.
This is not something that OTs are generally learning about in their academic core curriculums, how did you fill the gaps in your knowledge to confidently integrate this specialty into your practice?
It certainly isn’t something that we are taught, which is a shame due to the high proportion of occupational therapists who have wombs and the significant impact that menstrual cycles have on occupational performance and engagement. I believe that our occupational therapy training makes us well placed to understand menstrual cycles, longer biological rhythms, and rites of passage. So my hope is that the taboo nature of this topic is overtaken by the perfect way that these experiences fit into our occupational therapy models and view of the world. I also believe that because of these frameworks, we don’t need specific training to start offering support in these areas; however, an area of interest always leads us to more learning.
Before starting my women’s health private practice, I completed postpartum doula training – not because I work as a doula but because it gave incredible grounding in what mothers really need to move through the mother transition with peace and joy. I next completed my Arvigo® Abdominal Massage training which considers flow and balance around the womb and the way this contributes to physical and emotional wellbeing. This approach offers bodywork and supportive techniques for menstrual cycle challenges, scar tissue, digestion, and organ alignment. Tami Kent’s Holistic Pelvic CareTM and Holistic Pelvic EnergyTM training followed. This introduced internal bodywork into my clinical toolbox and brought a body-based understanding of the Doing, Being, Becoming, Belonging Model. Lynn Schulte’s Birth Preparation and Birth Healing training furthered my knowledge of the roles of bones and organs in the body. This brought a different perspective on how the mothering rite of passage impacts our body and energy, and provided techniques to ground the pelvis and support the nervous system for optimal pelvic function.
None of these trainings have been specific only to menstrual cycles, but they have each offered insight and another piece to the puzzle. I also read, reference, and strongly recommend any of the following books (or online resources):
Nicole Jardim. (2020) Fix Your Period: Six Weeks to Life-Long Hormone Balance
Lara Briden. (2018). Period Repair Manual
Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. (2019). The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility
Maisie Hill. (2019). Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You
Clarissa Pinkola Estés. (2017) Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
What has been the most revealing and rewarding aspect of blending this specialized approach with the foundational scope of OT practice?
I have seen the real difference that it makes when we realise we are not just addressing a pelvic health symptom but supporting a pelvis that has been challenged by the birth rite of passage. When we don’t just see anxiety or depression, but a mother who has undergone momentous brain changes during pregnancy that primes her for a support environment that usually doesn’t exist. When period pain isn’t just hormonal imbalances and adhesions around the womb, but the body sharing it’s deep and profound story. I believe that acknowledging blood rites of passage through our words, touch, and therapeutic approaches render our interventions as all the more powerful and meaningful.
It is an incredible opportunity to be part of a profession that recognises spirituality at the core of every person. Working with menstrual cycles and womb wisdom calls us to really acknowledge and honour this part of our training. Not as an add on to our offerings, but as a carefully considered and integral component to any area of clinical practice that we might find ourselves.
What do you think the future role for the profession of occupational therapy is regarding this aspect of care in the evolving landscape of OTs working in Women’s Health?
I believe that occupational therapy will continue to grow into this area of practice, both as a focus area and with increased awareness for all spaces that we work. With ongoing advocacy, I would like to see occupational therapists become well known for their skills in providing adaptive as well as restorative approaches for menstrual cycles; and for being a crucial support for women, mothers and people with wombs as they move through blood rites of passage.
Janelle Gullan, BOccTher(Hons)
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy with Honours: LaTrobe University, Melbourne (2004)
Arvigo® abdominal massage practitioner
Holistic Pelvic Care/Energy™ provider
Pregnancy and Birth Healing practitioner
Janelle currently resides in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia where she runs her private practice The Wild Orange Tree. She provides clinical practices throughout Australia, and with coaching and professional mentorship offered online and worldwide. If you wish to connect with Janelle to learn more about her practice style, approach, and methods of intervention, or have questions specifically about pursuing this area of practice, you can connect with her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or through her professional website www.thewildorangetree.com.au
Also, If you are a practicing OT or OT student and you want to get in on the conversation with Janelle and other like-minded therapists, join her Facebook group ‘OTs Gone Menstrual’ to see what everyone is talking about.