Thought I’d take another shot at this Blog Posting and see how I go (feel free to leave feedback for me – both the great and not so great!).
For this entry, I really wanted to have a look at tips for new OT’s working in the Mental Health area. I know how daunting I found it all when I first started working in Mental Health, so I wanted to try and at least share some things which I found useful for me – hopefully others will find them useful too!
- Have an open mind – At the end of the day we’re all human and we’re all just trying to get through life. No person is better than any other, and each person has their own story to tell, and their own challenges to face. The beauty of working as an OT in Mental Health is that we actually get to help people tell their stories, have a say in their own treatment, and also work towards helping them to get back to living the life that THEY want by setting their own goals.
- Know your Mental State Exam, and know it well –The MSE is an important part of the work we do as clinicians in Mental Health; and while it’s not an OT specific skill or assessment, it’s important to do, and do well. An MSE helps to serve as a “snapshot” of the person you are working with at that particular point in time – it not only describes a persons mental state at a particular time, but it’s also an important tool that can:
- Help substantiate the need for ongoing therapeutic input
- Inform diagnosis
- Convey information to other important stakeholders on the team
- And also determine the direction treatment may need to take
- Know how to safely, appropriately and quickly assess Risk – I can’t stress enough the importance of this point. Again, a Risk Assessment isn’t an OT specific skill or assessment, but is probably one of the most important things any clinician working in Mental Health needs to be able to competently do. Ultimately, each individual is responsible for managing risk, and there are serious repercussions for breaches with this, that could result in placing not only yourself at risk, but also your colleagues and the client themselves. Ultimately – ask before you proceed!
- Find a Mentor or Supervisor to link yourself in with, and take advantage accordingly – One of the biggest things that I found when starting to work in this area was just how overwhelming it can all be. As with any new area of work, there’s A LOT to learn and A LOT to take in – so linking yourself in with a more experienced OT and receiving support can be a big help when you’re new to it all. I really would suggest regular weekly sessions with your Mentor or Supervisor when you’re first starting work in Mental Health. I realise that sounds ‘full on’, but trust me – you’ll be thankful you did it!
- Debrief – TALK TALK TALK to other clinicians, and your supervisor / mentor to debrief as you need. Therapeutic use of self as an OT in Mental Health can be draining and exhausting – so talk it out and get it off your chest (keeping in mind appropriate confidentiality guidelines etc of course!).
- Engage in as many Professional Development Opportunities as you can – Act like a sponge and soak it all up – as I said, there’s lots to learn and take on board when working in this area (particularly when starting out). Thankfully there are lots of Professional Development opportunities for OT’s in Mental Health, so link yourself in with as many information sources as you can and take copious amounts of notes!
- Keep a Resource Folder – You will thank yourself for this as time goes by, trust me! I keep a flash drive with me at all times and get my hands on as many available resources and materials as I can – you’ll be surprised how many times you draw back on things and actually use what you find. Nothing beats the feeling of finding an exciting new resource and getting good results with your clients when you use it in practice! Keep in mind as well that MH4OT is a great resource to use!
- Take Advantage of working in a Multi Disciplinary Team – You’ll learn so much from Nurses, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers and other professionals working in the Mental Health Area. They can be a great source of information, and also great resources to help you better understand Mental Health, and the complexities of working in this area. If nothing else, their stories are usually always great too!
- Listen and Observe – Often you’ll learn more about your clients from listening and watching, than you will from reading about them. Collateral Information is important (and it’s great to read up and get as much background information as possible), but there are times when just engaging with a client and talking to them over a cup of coffee will help you understand them and their needs best. Encourage people to tell their stories. Be creative and receptive when clients come up with their own solutions to issues. This is where your good interaction and communication skills will really help you out!
- Don’t expect 2 days to ever be the same – One of the beauties of working in this area (and also one of the real challenges) is the fact that no 2 days are ever the same, and things often don’t quite go according to plan. It’s important to be flexible and understanding – recovery from Mental Health isn’t a linear thing so learn to expect the unexpected and be prepared for whatever the day will throw at you.
- Have a sense of Humour – Laughter really sometimes is the best medicine!
- Most importantly – ENJOY YOURSELF!!!
Working in Mental Health will allow you to meet some amazing, inspirational and genuinely fantastic people. DON’T expect it to be easy, but DO expect that you really will learn something new every day, and prepare to be amazed. It really is one of the most challenging areas that you can work in as an OT, but it is definitely also one of the most rewarding.