Occupational highs

During supervision yesterday I tried to describe the amazing transformation I’ve seen in people through the use of meaningful occupation. It’s something I’ve recognised over the years since working with people who have been de-energised by life and lost motivation for almost everything. With these people I am always determined to find hope. A colleague once joked that I would only assess and continue to work people if their motivation was so low they’d only leave their bed for smoke breaks. There’s something motivating for me to see how enabling engagement in occupation that is truly important to people, that makes them individual and gives them a reason to leave their beds for more than 5 minutes at a time inspires me.

The only term I’ve found for this glint of hope so far is ‘the sparkle you see in someone’s eyes’ when they get to engage in an occupation that awakens their energy. My supervisor hit the nail on the head yesterday when she said it’s like an ‘occupational high‘ as I described to her a few individuals I’m currently working with.

Last week I found myself at an 18 hole golf course (slightly out of my comfort zone as I’ve never even won at crazy golf) with 2 men who’d identified a love of the sport, but not played for years. Both identify with having difficulties with feelings of anger and agreed taking these feelings out on golf balls would be much better than anti-social options already tried.  We spent a couple of hours there and lost every ball we bought but all 3 of us had fun and the 2 guys seemed incredibly ‘high’ after getting this occupational fix. On the way home they were discussing other ideas and one man quickly decided go karting would be his dream occupation to try next – I’m excited already.

This week during a 1:1 session with a lady I’m working with we went to a lovely local park to help her de-stress and spend time in the outdoors which she loves. We were pleased to find a pretty decent playground suitable for people of all ages with a climbing wall. We spent ages trying to climb this and see who could get to the top – let’s just say I didn’t win. She’s already excited for next week and has already identified a taller, more challenging looking climbing tower for us to tackle.

At times I’ve worked with other Occupational Therapists and questioned my own approach – feeling inadequate in some way and like I’ve not quite developed into my role. I remember discussing with a colleague their specialist training in moving and handling/ hoisting and them questioning why I would waste my time after doing a degree running a breakfast club on a ward within a secure hospital. At the time I reflected that this had brought structure to these people’s days who had very little to get up for, brought the ward ‘community’ together, allowed people to develop skills of independence in cooking food of their choice (something you don’t get very often when you eat from a set menu). I still believed my role was of use but I felt a little flattened and wondered if my role really was so undervalued and if I should too find a specific remit.

I discussed this within supervision yesterday – how can a job be so fun, how can I get to try all these things I’d never normally do; have these opportunities and call it work? Maybe I should specialise in hoisting, Bobath, sensory integration. But I won’t. I want to remain OCCUPATION focused in my practice. This is and will continue to be my specialism because I’ve never seen occupation fail anyone – even those who have felt most lost and waved goodbye to what they thought was their final bit of hope. And I am of course an Occupational Therapist so if occupation isn’t my therapeutic tool what is?! (Aside from Jed, my PAT dog of course).

So if anyone asks what Occupational Therapists do what better answer than to say we enable occupational highs? My highs this weekend will be seeing fireworks at a bonfire tonight (one of my favourite days of the year), walking my lovely dog Jed tomorrow at the local park and meeting a friend for coffee, having dinner and drinks at the local pub with my Dad tomorrow evening, and a day bargain hunting in charity shops, cooking some good food and spending time with my boyfriend on Sunday. How do you get high through occupation? I bet we all do something different and that’s the beauty of it: through occupation we can be us, we can be individual, and we can say that we found meaning to our day. We got high – we didn’t just scrape through.

Rebecca Wint, with thanks to Mandy Graham for inspiring me with the term ‘occupational highs’.

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