Aug 29, 2018

Use of the Kawa Model in a school setting


Edited: Aug 29, 2018


Kawa River in a school setting (Resilience Lab)Kawa River in a school setting (Resilience Lab)
My Kawa River, completed during my final OT placement

Myself and another student OT brought the Five Ways to Wellbeing to pupils at a deaf school, via a variety of weekly classes.


[For a fuller account of this intervention, check out my post in the Hub Blog]


The Kawa Model

We decided to use the Kawa Model of occupational therapy practice, to engage students in a creative activity. We wanted each person to consider the personal challenges they currently face and the skills and supportive structures to help overcome them.


We designed a basic river template (left) and laminated a copy for each child - to write on with wipeable ink. We felt that the visual element could be supportive to learning. Objects to place in the river and write on were then cut out and laminated. This formed a blank canvas for each pupil to map out their life flow! This would be a changing picture...


KEY Rocks = circumstances that block life flow and cause dysfunction or disability

Driftwood = skills and resources that support and enhance daily living

Fish = personal qualities that help to overcome challenges faced

River bed = the social, physical, cultural and institutional environment (a hinderance or help)


Each student could experiment by placing objects in different places within their river, to assess how one could support or hinder another aspect of their life. Check out my example river at the top of this post.


Why not utilise the Kawa Model in your work with clients/patients? It's a tool that works across ages and cultures! Jamie Grant

Director, The OT Hub

Occupational Therapist (UK, Urgent Care)

Oct 10, 2018

This is great! I have thought about using the KAWA model at work as it is so visual, but I have always wondered if it might be a little abstract for some of the people I work with. I am sure I could adapt the way I go about it though.

Oct 11, 2018

Thanks @Laura! Yes, whilst it's strength is the visual element, I did question whether it might be a little abstract for the age of the students I engaged in it. It may be hard to grasp for some, but it worked well in my sessions :) I added fish to the river (not a Kawa standard!) to differentiate personal qualities from skills...

Oct 19, 2018

I like it as it's quite flexible and non-prescriptive. The client can be creative in adjusting the layout offering an insight into their perspective, through what they focus on and consider important.

Oct 25, 2018

Yes @Bill - plus it can show an individuals journey well, with multiple cross-sectional analyses, of different stages in the person's life. Good for comparison!

Oct 30, 2018

I've used KAWA on myself in the past to think about the things going well in my life and barriers. I love such a visual tool it works realy well for me.

Nov 4, 2018

@Laura - great to hear OT models of practice are useful beyond our patients/clients! I also love the visual nature of Kawa. Although I don't actively reflect on things in my life as much as I should perhaps...

Nov 6, 2018

Beth and I used Kawa for 1:1 very successfully in sessions with homeless / mental health / substance abuse clients to create greater insight. Love Kawa's for it's flexibility and versatility! And I'm loving the fish idea! :-)

Nov 19, 2018

Hi there @yharder! Good to hear from you and thanks for getting involved in discussion here. Glad to hear you and Beth made good use of Kawa on placement. I'd love to have been there to see how you worked with those with homelessness/MH/substance challenges. Like you say, it is so versatile - we both used it successfully in both a homeless charity and at a deaf school. The fish idea was to try and differentiate students' skills from their personal qualities. Generally this adaptation worked well. As with any group, some of our group members engaged better than others!

Nov 11, 2018

We had a presentation (Kent County Council) of the Kawa River model a few months ago. I think that most of the OT's struggled to see how it could be applied in a social services setting. I felt that it could certainly be usefully applied for assessments, at least to facilitate OT's to be person centred.

Nov 19, 2018

Interesting to hear your perspective here @Rupert. I can understand you point of view; the model can be quite abstract for some and perhaps it is better suited to services with longer-lasting intervention periods? Certainly person-centredness comes out with Kawa!

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