Updated: Nov 13, 2019
This is a question that I come across a lot in work. As Occupational Therapists (OTs) have expanded their role across different settings, there is still misunderstanding of the benefit of OTs in a generic mental health role. Subquently, I have taken some time to reflect on my role within the team. As a mental health practitioner working in the mental health nursing team I am well placed to bring a variety of different skills and viewpoints to the role.
As an OT, I draw on the social model to inform my practice.
While the traditional medical model may prioritise diagnosis and medication treatment plan, I am able to take a holistic view and explore other options for recovery.
OTs explore the impact of the person, the environment and their valued occupations on health and well-being. The research supports the role of developing positive occupations and coping strategies through enhancing life skills, meaningful roles and valued relationships. As an example, I have supported a client to explore the benefits of relaxation, through using sensory oils, hand massage and everyday self-care (bath, shower), in order to promote mental well-being.
As an OT, I have expertise and knowledge in promoting skills development and supporting people to engage in meaningful occupations, through adaptation and equipment. For example, by tailoring a cooking task to meet the client’s needs, such as using a recipe plan, visual imagery and sequencing. I also actively promote the use of self-management of mental health symptoms, by managing anxiety through mindfulness apps, meaningful activity or journaling. In addition, I am aware that equipment can also be used to help people manage basic activities of daily living and retain some level of functioning. During cooking, a perching stool can support those with reduced standing tolerance; with personal care an electronic stand aid can promote independence and reduce loss of skills (e.g. core strength and stability). The reason that I see this as important is to promote independence and choice in everyday living, thus supporting health and mental well-being.
Through reflective practice, I have engaged in healthy discussion with fellow colleague Rebecca, to explore the value of meaningful occupations for health and well-being. My professional experience enabled me to see a different perspective, promoting choices and responsibilities around our human right to engage in valued occupation. Occupational injustice can occur when a person is denied, excluded from or deprived of opportunity to pursue meaningful occupations; thus limiting independence and life satisfaction. These occupational concepts are aligned closely with social justice and the Human Rights legislation.
Occupational beings have the basic human right and need to participate in meaningful occupations for health benefits.
As a service, we can often feel the need to protect people with a learning disability, to the extent that they avoid consequences such as prison. However, in order to avoid discrimination, we must recognise the responsibilities that come with individual rights and choices. We concluded that, as health professionals, we do not have the right or legal framework to deny someone opportunity to engage in sexual activity, despite the risks associated with the client's understanding around sex.
This learning opportunity has helped me to redefine my contribution and role within the scope of my professional practice. My service users will benefit from my knowledge and expertise in promoting occupational rights, in the context of health and well-being management. I would encourage anyone to take on a generic mental health role, to embrace the challenge and promote the value of OT in a variety of different settings and roles.