A week in the life of an Occupational Therapist

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an Occupational Therapist (OT)? Or what the role involves day to day? One of our OTs, Jessica Yeates, has shared what her typical week looks like, and we think it makes pretty interesting, and inspiring, reading.

Monday

I always have butterflies in my tummy on a Monday. What’s happened over the weekend? Has someone harmed themselves

I’m an occupational therapist working in NHS mental health. I support people who have difficulties regulating their emotions and exhibit risky behaviours, such as self-harm and alcohol abuse, to help them find ways of coping. Anything could have happened over the last 48 hours.

The first thing I do is check my emails and it looks like the people I work with have got through their weekends without incident. 

Today is the mood management group, which teaches people about emotions and better ways of coping. It starts off well, but then someone starts shouting that I don’t really care, that I’m only there because I’m paid to be. The tirade continues and it takes my breath away. In that moment I don’t know how to help this person. 

I think about it all the way home. I know that it wasn’t really about me, it was the reality of having to confront their situation, but it’s still hard. It’s knocked my confidence and I worry about it happening again. Could I have done more to help?  

Tuesday 

This morning I’m running a self-esteem and relationships group. I always encourage people to strive for progress, not perfection - small changes make a big difference and should be celebrated. That’s what I see here. At the end someone comes up and says thank you. It means the world to me.

My manager checks in to see how I’m doing. Having a good support network at work is so important. I’m always talking with my colleagues about what’s going on, and supervision sessions allow me to reflect on and discuss my work in a safe and confidential place. It helps me to look after my own wellbeing and means I can do my job. No matter what else is happening I always make sure I have time for this.

In the afternoon I visit a client’s home to measure up for a raised toilet seat. People often have related physical health difficulties, and I can prescribe equipment to help them with everyday tasks. That’s what occupational therapy is all about, helping people with day to day activities so that they can do the things that matter to them. 

Wednesday

My first appointment cancels at the last minute. I’m relieved because it gives me time to catch up on my admin but also frustrated at a wasted appointment. Still, it’s better than somebody just not turning up. When that happens it can take a long time to locate them and check that they’re safe. I can’t assume responsibility for everyone but I worry when someone doesn’t turn up. 

Next is an appointment with a young person referred to us by their GP and it quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong. Their notes refer to “she” but they identify as male. They’ve told their GP many times but nothing has ever changed. I update the notes and we agree to use male pronouns from now on. They tell me I’m the first person to actually listen them. It’s not the GP’s fault - they have very little time with people. But it makes our job harder if the referral doesn’t reflect the true picture.

Thursday

I meet with a client and the Pathfinder team, who support people during their discharge from specialist services to the community. The client has been phoning more often, crying that they can’t be discharged as they can’t cope alone. This isn’t uncommon. I explain that they will still have help, it just won’t be from me, but as the meeting goes on it feels like all the work we’ve done together has gone out the window. We proceed with the discharge as planned, but I still think about my decision. 

After a meeting like this it’s more important than ever for me to look after myself.  Tonight I’m playing netball, which is something I really enjoy. It’s a good chance to relax and switch off from my day. Spending time with my family and friends has the same effect and is something I’ve learnt to prioritise over the years. 

Friday

I meet a client who self-harms, to talk about other ways they can take control and express their feelings. They need an alternative that gives them the same feeling of release. This is difficult, but after exploring a few ideas they decide that they are going to try crunching on ice cubes when they want to hurt themselves. They think that the cold crunch will be distracting enough to divert their attention for a little while. It sounds simple but for them it’s a big step forward if they’re able to do it.    

Next is a client and their partner, who is also their carer. It’s clear that the carer is struggling to cope so I signpost them to the local carer’s support organisation. It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s all I can do? I’ve heard good things about the organisation so I hope they will be ok.

I love my job, and I know I’m making a difference, but it’s still exhausting. 

What does the weekend hold for my clients? I don’t know, but the butterflies will be back on Monday.

Are you feeling inspired by Jessica's story? You can learn more about becoming an Occupational Therapist, part of a group known as Allied Health Professionals. Find out more