A guest post by Ms Louise Hesketh, an OT student at the University of Salford in the UK
When I found out that I was going on a five week placement to a community mental health team I had mixed feelings. I was pleased as my placements so far had been in physical health in hospital settings. However, and I feel embarrassed to say this, I was uneasy. When I went to meet with my educator I asked questions regarding safety and I was met with the response that this client group are more at risk from themselves and others than they are to us. I left the office questioning my understanding of those with severe and enduring mental health conditions as potentially dangerous, wondering where this cliché had been constructed from and hoping that the next five weeks would quash it.
My time flew by, days were full to the brim and I was too busy to feel anxious. Instead of pondering about what could go wrong when I asked David* a man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia if he’d like to go out for a coffee and a look around the shops I just got on with it, got stuck in and reflected on it afterwards. On reflection I felt silly that I had ever worried about working with this client group and moreover I felt ashamed that I had been taken in by the media’s portrayal of mental health, especially as I was an occupational therapy student.
There were lots of occasions like that and as time went on and I built relationships with clients I didn’t think twice about pencilling in visits to their home or seeing them at the office or planning to go out and do things together. The stereotype had definitely been quashed to the point where I became so fond of the people I had the pleasure of working with that I joked to my educator that I wanted to have them all over for Christmas dinner.
And so a new issue emerged, the issue of worrying for my safety was transformed into an issue of maintaining boundaries! I had long chats during supervision about how I was finding it hard to switch off at night because I was going home worrying about my clients. There was one client that I became particularly attached to, a girl of a similar age to me who I wanted to pull all the stops out for and who it was difficult to say good bye to when my placement drew to an end. With my educator I considered why I felt the way I did about this person and there were reasons. I learnt that when you do feel that professional boundaries are being impacted on, there are usually reasons personal to you and it is essential to examine these as part of self management.
What I don’t want this piece to say is that I am complacent about my safety; anybody who works alone in the community must always take precautions and adhere to the lone worker policy. At this trust if an initial assessment was being carried out then two people would go and there was a phone system that should be logged in and out of when on community visits.
This placement was everything that a placement should be. If my journey to become an occupational therapist was a plant then this experience was the fertilizer. It stretched me and I grew, my OT skills and confidence blossomed in a way that only fieldwork education can provide, no amount of lectures or exams or essay writing can provide that.
*Names of clients have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
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