Occupational therapy - the power to help people aspire
Successfully bringing together housing, health and social care requires a range of skilled professionals. Home Group’s Lindsay Courtney explains why occupational therapy plays a key role in supporting its customers.
As a housing association, Home Group has been questioned on whether we have the appropriate expertise to care for the wide range of customers in our supported services.
At this year’s annual NHS Confederation conference, for example, an audience survey showed people didn’t realise we could support acute mental health patients – even though we have invested to ensure we can.
By integrating health, housing and social care, some of the most vulnerable people in society can enjoy a better quality of life – whether that’s through receiving regular, appropriate healthcare or being given the skills to live more independently.
Having the right skills to support this work is key. While housing may not be the first place healthcare professionals think of working, I think it offers a more agile and innovative environment to allow people the freedom to reach their potential.
No more is this the case than with occupational therapy which, within healthcare, is still often seen as a nice-to-have rather than playing a central role in improving people’s lives.
Occupational therapists have a versatility when it comes to care. At Home Group they work across mental health, learning disabilities and community wellbeing - our improved extra care offer.
Whether it’s housing or health, I believe occupational therapy needs to be greater recognised as an essential care role. People are occupational by nature; meaningful activities are integral to who we are and if they’re absent, it has a serious impact on our health and wellbeing.
I’ve worked previously in medically focused environments where the job is to stabilise patients and reduce risk of further issues. Once this is done there’s little focus on what’s next for that patient and, left that way, it can lead to a poor quality of life.
Occupational therapy bridges that gap and helps people to overcome their individual challenges. It’s about getting to know that person, building a relationship and understanding their unique goals and ambitions. Rather than just focusing on what’s important for people, occupational therapists look at what’s important to them.
I recently worked with an elderly customer and was told the most important things for her were safety and food. After meeting I discovered that going to her local church was what she enjoyed most, so we worked on a plan to make sure she could continue to do that.
At Home Group, occupational therapists work with people aged 16 and upwards –many with undiagnosed mental health issues or destructive behaviours like alcohol or drug abuse.
We look at establishing life skills and improving self-esteem. The goal is to replace these negative aspects with positive ones, improve people’s resilience and ultimately support them to live independently in their own home – it’s what the majority of people tell us they want.
Often this means breaking down existing barriers where the individual has had a bad experience with healthcare professionals. We need to rebuild this trust before we can even begin to understand them.
Where housing can really make a difference is appreciating the impact environment has on people. Homes often prove the biggest risk factor, normally because they’re not built in a suitable way, leading to people being forced into care and losing any independence they may have had.
What I love most about occupational therapy is its power to help people to aspire. If you can aspire to something then you have hope for the future. By bringing healthcare professionals into housing we can help more people overcome barriers and move forward in their lives.
Lindsay Courtney is strategic lead for service design and practice at Home Group and a qualified and registered occupational therapist. Through her role she delivers innovative solutions to complex health and social care needs.