I was recently chatting to an occupational therapy colleague about the programme she works on. People with mental health difficulties attend. The aim is to increase participants confidence and skills in preparation for going back to work or education. As part of our chat she reminded me about one of the core areas of occupational therapy practice – using occupations to develop, practice or maintain a variety of essential daily living skills.
The skills I have in mind are those we heavily rely on but often taken for granted. For example, social skills are needed for teamwork and used in many leisure and productive occupations. However, there may be limited opportunity to practice these if a person is not working or engaging in their usual leisure pursuits. This can be compounded by low self-confidence, anxiety and lowering of motivation. As a result, social skills can be lost over time. Another example is concentration. Being able to concentrate is necessary for most activities. Within self-care, cooking and shopping are good examples of activities that are dependant on concentration. Productive occupations rely on concentration for completing the steps of complicated tasks, following instructions and learning new skills. Many leisure activities also include the need to concentrate in order to enjoyably participate. While it can be hard to imagine losing these skills it happens more often than people realise. People who have had difficulties with these everyday living skills will attest to how difficult life can become as a result.
Participants on the programme my colleague provides occupational therapy input to often have such difficulties. Addressing them can seem daunting, even impossible. We chatted over how she is often assisting a participant on the programme develop social skills through the occupation of playing a team sport OR develop their concentration through the occupation of reading OR develop their planning skills through the occupation of cooking. It is unlikely this would be apparent to people without an occupational therapy background but the emergence of the skills over time can sometimes seem like a transformation, a caterpillar into a butterfly. The person is often well set for taking on the next challenges after the programme with new found confidence in their skills. These skills were always there, just dormant waiting for an occupation to wake them.
I really enjoyed being reminded of one of our unique areas of practice and it brought back many pleasant memories of my early days practicing as an occupational therapist.