“V” is for value

It won’t come as any surprise that I strongly believe that what we do with our time matters to our health and happiness. Engaging in occupations and completing activities that we value is central to this. What we consider of value is highly individual. While generally there is agreement that a broad category of occupation is valuable, for example work, there will be individual differences as to the specific kind of work that provides value to us. The same can be said for leisure activities, social activities, and self-care activities.

In occupational therapy/science this is referred to as occupational value. It is an important concept as it influences our decisions regarding our time use and therefore has relevance to our mental and physical health and the extent of our happiness.

Completing a time use diary can tell you a lot about what you value and may also give you some hints as to what brings you happiness. You will also notice from this exercise that there are some activities you regularly do on auto pilot or because you believe it is expected of you? What value do these have? No doubt some but maybe in a different way. You may also notice something missing from your current daily and weekly routine.

I recently completed a training course that extended my understanding of occupational value. It was delivered by Prof Lena-Karin Erlandsson, an Swedish authority regarding the importance of occupational value. I learnt that rather than a singular concept, occupational value has three elements – concrete value; socio-symbolic value; and self reward (immediate experience). Any occupation can be considered in terms of what value it provides in each of these three elements. It is important to stress that not all occupations will bring value in each element. For example an activity like washing the dishes after dinner has (1) the concrete value of clean dishes ready for use for the next meal and a hygienic living space (2) the socio-symbolic value of demonstrating an awareness of societal norms for keeping one’s living environment clean and, if sharing a living space, the gratitude of others for this contribution to the collective responsibilities. However it may not bring any self reward value.

The obvious question is whether it is worth considering our occupations in this way. Is it a waste a time? A lot of trouble? If you consider the saying, one that I happen to use a lot, “you can’t spend time twice”, you’ll guess my view. Knowledge of how much time we spend engaging in the self rewarding occupations and how much is spent on those that are restricted to bringing concrete and/or socio-symbolic value provides information to make decisions and important choices for our health and happiness.

In the future I’ll be providing a programme for people curious about this area to learn more and make changes to how they spend their time so they experience more self reward. If you’d like more information feel free to email ot@oti.ie

through the occupation of ..

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. 

Time waits for no-one …

I haven’t posted in a long well. Over the last months, there didn’t seem to be the right topic or the right time. My Mum always said if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all. Today though I have the sense that we are emerging quickly from a difficult time in our existence. This will be easy from some and extremely difficult for others. A page I follow on Facebook called “A lust for life” recently pointed this out. It stressed we need to be patient with the different responses to this time of change. I have decided to recommence my private practice work. So if you recognise a need in yourself to address work-life balance; re-engaging in meaningful activities or rediscovering your enthuasism for life please reach out and send a message to my email address ot@oti.ie or use the contact me form. Grasping a nettle early and dealing with the issue will help you emerge from your challenging experience without delay.

We can work it out….

The famous song by The Beatles We Can Work It Out is the inspiration for this blog.  It’s a statement of positivity and hope.  It can be applied to many situations.  The word “We” highlights a collaborative approach to address a challenging situation that one or more people find themselves in.  The word “Work” is so prominent.  Work is a word with many meanings.  In the case of the song title it is as a verb; work can also refer to a person’s productive occupation.

I have always been interested in the role occupational therapy has assisting people to have a meaningful and healthy work life.  For many people their work takes up more of their time than any other category of occupation.  The type of work people do varies and can be paid or non-paid.  Non-paid work includes full time parenting, study, retirement and volunteering.  All types of work bestow physical, mental and social benefits to the individual and a significant contribution to society. 

But what are the barriers to work that some people face?  Can We Work It Out?  Research I conducted on census data shows that the labour force category “unable to work due to permanent illness/disability” has been increasing over the last two decades.  And this only reflects people who consider this to be their situation; there are many more who consider themselves able to work but are not in work and unlikely to gain employment due to negative perceptions of the work abilities of people with mental and physical challenges.  One way of addressing this is through people with negative perceptions having contact with people with disabilities who are working.  However, for this to occur it is necessary to assist people with disabilities to gain and retain employment and for people who acquire a disability during their working life be assisted to retain their job.  There is a specific scheme for the latter, the Employee Retention Grant Scheme, in which occupational therapists can play an important role. 

The Employee Retention Grant Scheme aims to help private sector employers to keep employees who acquire an illness, condition or impairment (occupational or otherwise) that affects their ability to carry out their job.  The grant helps employers to explore an employee’s continuing ability to operate as a member of the workforce.  The scheme recognises that many private sector employers lack the necessary internal resources to develop and implement a retention strategy which can facilitate them to buy in the specialist skills and knowledge to develop and implement a Retention Strategy.  An occupational therapist has such specialist skills.  At its heart this scheme reflects a “We Can Work It Out” approach.  It can be used for any type of disability and applied in many circumstances.  It is a Win-Win situation, the employee continues in their job; the employer retains a skilled and experienced employee: there is no loss of productivity for society and importantly negative perceptions of the work abilities of people with disabilities are challenged.  Contact OT@OTI.ie if you are in need of a specialist to assist you with this scheme.