Ideally, I wake up fresh and bright at 7am, get up, meditate and do yoga, have breakfast and cycle to work. Usually, I press the snooze button on my clock a few times until there’s no choice but to get up and go!

My emails are my first port of call, although there isn’t usually anything urgent. I then check my diary with a cup of tea. A typical day would normally involve both one-to-one sessions and group work. Hopefully, this work is focused on service users’ individual goals – which might be to feel confident to attend a swimming session once a week independently or to begin volunteering in a project of interest one day a week within the next two months. However, it might also involve completing an Activities of Daily Living Assessment for someone who wants or needs to move.

When completing an assessment my main focus is how the individual is able to participate in occupations they need and want to do. In occupational therapy, when we use the word occupation we divide this into three main types – self-care, productive and leisure occupations. We aim to emphasize the strengths someone already has, maximize these and then, through intervention, to minimize the barriers they may be experiencing – be these physical, cognitive, social or otherwise.

The best bits of my day are when I am actually working alongside someone to do something that is important to them. This ranges from digging up weeds to creating a new garden space, to creatively decorating sensory boxes, or to baking a cake someone wants to share with their family. I’m often surprised by the things people say they want to do when we meet – from training to be a body piercer, to going fishing, to taxidermy! 

The people I meet have diagnoses of severe and enduring mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and personality disorders. There can be stigma attached to these conditions, and so often I find myself working with people to minimize the stigma they feel or the experience in the wider community. When not meeting service users I spend a fair bit of time in meetings, writing reports, and planning and preparing for sessions. The uniqueness of occupational therapy lies in activity analysis – this is the breaking down of activities into each step and all the components that interact to impact on this activity – hopefully this is one of our main contributions to the multidisciplinary team.

Occupational therapy isn’t a well-known profession, so I find myself trying to explain it often. But research has found that, in mental health practice, timely occupational therapy interventions can prevent unnecessary hospital admission, decrease the number of incidents on in-patient wards, facilitate early discharge and support adults of working age to retain their jobs during an episode of mental illness (COT 2006).

I also hadn’t heard of occupational therapists, until the year I trained to be one! I had planned to become a social worker, but then occupational therapy was suggested to me and I found out it was all about using activity as a medium to improve health and wellbeing. I’m generally quite an active person – always on the go and doing things – so it seemed to suit me well. But as an occupational therapist I increasingly appreciate the importance of some of the seemingly most simple things we do and also time to just be, and not be busy.

Fancy training to become an occupational therapist?
It takes three years as an undergrad or two years as a postgrad, and you spend at least 1000 hours on placement during that time. Students need to apply for a loan to cover tuition fees and living costs, so it can be a big undertaking. But I wouldn’t swap my job for any other.  

Felicity Bowden, Occupational Therapist

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