Saturday, August 15, 2015

Occupational therapy and mental health: ‘It’s not about basket weaving’

Jane Reynolds can’t imagine doing anything else: “I love working with people. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing how they can change their life with a bit of support.”

She makes it sound easy, but as an occupational therapist (OT) working as a community forensic mental health practitioner, Reynolds is tasked with engaging some of the hardest to reach service users: people with severe mental disorders, including severe and enduring mental illness and personality disorder, usually with a history of violent crime. “They don’t want to listen to country and western music, or dig a garden, generally,” she says.

Four years ago, Reynolds hit on the idea of a group in which clients can make films telling their own stories, delivered in partnership with the Educational Shakespeare Company, which works with offenders and marginalised people. The results – lower levels of anxiety and depression in clients and improvements in self-esteem and social functioning – have been, in her words, astounding.

Gone are the days when occupational therapy for mental health patients was all about basket weaving, says Hilary Williams, lead OT within the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS foundation trust’s psychosis services, which employs around 50 OTs. Instead, their role within a multi-disciplinary team is about helping people lead lives that are as fulfilling as possible, by supporting them in different elements of their occupation: including self-care, productive roles in volunteering or education, and leisure pursuits.

“Our focus and premise is that engagement and meaningful activity is essential for good mental health,” Williams says. “The emphasis is very much around working in a collaborative way with the person using services, saying to them: what are your hopes and aspirations? What most people want to do is live as independently as possible, stay in their own homes and do things that are meaningful to them.”

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Occupational Therapy Notes

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