A day in the life of a children’s occupational therapist

This is a day in the life of an occupational therapist (OT) working with our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in Herefordshire:

“I arrive at the office and grab a coffee and sort through messages from parents, often about concerns or requests for support to help school understand. Returning calls and trying to catch teachers before lessons start is always a bit of a challenge.

“First appointment today with a young girl and her mum and dad. She is struggling at school with learning and socialising with others. Working with the whole family helps to see how they are together. Some roleplay helped us all to understand what happens when things go wrong and lead to her social isolation. As OTs, we are really skilled in coming up with practical strategies to manage challenges. Some cutting, sticking and laminating later for this family, they have a traffic light system to use at home and school to help her share how she feels.

“Dealing with the unexpected is part of every single day in a CAMHS team. This time, a phone call from a distressed dad whose son is struggling to come to terms with the death of a friend by suicide. Drawing on the skills of the medic and psychologist in the team, together we can support him through the grieving process.

“My skills as an OT really help to support young people to achieve success in spite of their challenges with anxiety. Planning activities so they are achievable is a really important part of what we do. This might be homework, essays, meeting friends after school or things that are more important to them, such as being able to ask for a can of Coke in the canteen.

“Helping schools to understand how best to support someone and enable their success is so important. Often, it’s about helping teachers to understand the young person’s experiences and suggest that maybe asking them to read aloud in front of the class isn’t the best thing right now. We can challenge them with that later, but first let’s give them a space where they can be confident enough to do their learning.

“At lunchtime there is time to catch up with my fellow OTs, to share knowledge about a new referral and the best approach to support a young boy who has been diagnosed with Selective Mutism following a major trauma and is struggling in school. Sharing experience and picking the brains of colleagues is always useful.

“Every day is different and being creative (another OT skill!) about how we might support a person to overcome their challenges is a great part of the role. Today, it’s running down to the radiology department at the County Hospital to take lots of photos of the department, X-ray machines and members of staff holding a board with messages of encouragement for a girl who is on the Autistic Spectrum who is trying hard to overcome a specific phobic of X-rays so she can have  important surgery.  Brilliant!

“It’s a busy, demanding job with many positives and the odd challenge or two. Now and again, things happen which remind us why we do what we do. While cycling home, I pass a young person I used to work with who is hanging out with his mates and ‘being cool’ but manages to give me a quick grin that reassures me all is still going well; phew.”