Choices: A Helping Hand for All the Community; A Flexible Approach to Therapy
FLEXIBILITY and a real enthusiasm for working with people are top of Helen Miles' list of reasons why she enjoys being an occupational therapist.
Now at senior level, Helen specialises in working with people with acute mental health problems.
'Many of the people I treat have had no previous experience of mental illness,' she explains. 'They may be suffering from disorders such as depression, anxiety, bereavement or schizophrenia.'
Around 90 per cent of her work is in the community - people's homes or doctor's surgeries - with the rest of her time spent in hospitals.
'The team includes psychiatric nurses, consultants, social workers and psychologists,' she says. 'Each client is assigned a 'key worker' from the team so we all have to be flexible, able to take responsibility and act on our own initiative.'
Occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing professions in health and social care.
People of all ages may need therapy, with treatment frequently focusing on enabling them to perform everyday activities such as washing, dressing, cooking and shopping.
Therapists may also need to help patients regain social skills and support them in getting back to work by building up their stamina and confidence.
In Helen's case, she helps people regain their independence by helping them with basic skills like coping with public transport and managing a household budget.
'I treat a number of middle aged women who feel that as their children have grown up they have lost their role in life.
'Then can become withdrawn and anxious but by assessing their circumstances and working out what they want to achieve it's possible to draw up a treatment plan.
'In one case I suggested taking on voluntary work and joining a women's group. It's so gratifying to see someone, quite literally, discover a new lease of life.'
Part of Helen's role involves running a number of support groups in the community, including one using creative activities.
'People work in wood and modelling materials and there's also silk screen printing and other decorative arts,' she says.
Occupational therapists working in hospitals have a key role to play helping patients who have suffered illness or sustained injuries such as burns or brain damage.
Their expertise will be further called upon when they help patients re-adjust when discharged from hospital.
Fundamentally, their role is to encourage people to take action themselves which will improve the quality of their own lives and enable them to remain independent and autonomous for as long as possible.
Skills needed to achieve that include the ability to build strong working partnerships, good communication skills, creativity, flexibility and adaptability.
Entry Requirements: At least 18-years-old, five GCSE's and two A-levels, including a science subject.
Qualities: Empathetic and able to relate to different kinds of people, resilience, good communicator.
Further information: College of Occupational Therapists Education Dept, 106 - 114 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LB.
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