Occupational therapists serve important role at PfP
From the Fall/Winter 2015 Perspectives Newsletter
One night at a local grocery store, Greg Seymour was approached by a stranger who asked if he was the person his wife could talk to if she was upset about losing her job. The encounter occurred because Seymour was wearing his Washington University School of Medicine Occupational Therapy sweatshirt. Seymour explained to the man that occupational therapy is not job therapy, but rather “It’s the idea that an occupation is anything that makes up your day.”
At Places for People, occupational therapists are a unique and important part of the recovery process for people living with severe mental illness. The organization added its second full-time OT position in fall 2014 when the Health Care Home team hired Seymour.
“I have worked with occupational therapists since I entered community mental health, and as I have learned some of the barriers to our clients’ progress with health goals, it became evident that this discipline would help fill a gap that we were experiencing,” said Diane Maguire, Director of Places for People’s Health Care Home program.
The Health Care Home team works with clients to coordinate their physical health care needs in conjunction with their psychiatric conditions. Seymour earned his Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Every day is drastically different,” Seymour said of his job. “I feel like when the successes happen, they’re pretty monumental.”
For the past seven years, Tim McKay has experienced those successes as a licensed occupational therapist for one of Places for People’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams.
McKay said occupational therapy focuses primarily on building skills revolving around instrumental activities of daily living. These activities include exercise, money management, grocery shopping, medication adherence strategies, developing coping skills and social supports, and much more.
“With OT, we’re really trying to look at where the client is at right now. Really looking at what can we do, how can we work with them to get them functioning the best that they can,” McKay said.
“It can be as small as helping somebody who is struggling to brush their teeth every day or struggling to have clean clothes, to someone who struggles to pay their bills. It is very client-driven.”
The goals of an occupational therapist are to help a person function and strive toward independence. There is not one singular path to accomplish those goals.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a cookbook style of therapy or style of care. You’re really trying to be creative and trying to figure out what the client is wanting and working with them there.” McKay explained.
Occupational therapy’s origins revolved around mental health, but over the years it became more commonly associated with hospital and geriatric settings.
The role of an occupational therapist is very much a part of mental health’s past, and will be a growing part of its future. In May 2015, the position of licensed occupational therapist was listed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as part of the suggested staff to be considered for inclusion in the newly created Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
Not only does Places for People employ three licensed occupational therapists – two who work as occupational therapists and a third who is a community support specialist–but Places for People is also a site for students who are completing field work rotations.
Students complete three one-week field work rotations at different sites, then complete two three-month field work rotations. McKay supervises students from Maryville University, Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis in three-month rotations over the course of a year.
As an OT student at Maryville University, Michelle Scott performed her field work at PfP in 2013. “My experiences with the clients and staff at PfP were very rewarding,” she said. “I can honestly say I have never worked with people who care so deeply about their clients. It was impactful…something I will never forget.”
Scott’s experiences at Places for People reinforced her professional plans. “I have always had an interest in mental health, and my experience at PfP only strengthened and reconfirmed my interest in working with that population.”
Kristen Lane performed her field work at PfP in 2014. Her favorite memory from her experience was working with a client whose primary goal was to become physically fit. They developed a plan, and began walking together at a park once a week. Soon, that changed to jogging, and eventually running.
“I began to see how this not only gave him energy throughout the rest of his day, but it also increased his motivation in other tasks.”
During his time as a student at Maryville University, two rotation stops stood out to McKay. His first one-week rotation at a community mental health site reaffirmed his future direction. “That first day when I walked out of that community site, I was like ‘this is the population that I really want to work with because it just seemed more impactful to me.’”
His second memorable rotation experience was his three-month field work rotation at Community Alternatives before its merger with Places for People. “I really enjoyed working there and seeing the relationships that you could build with the clients, and just how important the various clinicians were in the clients’ lives.” McKay became a full-time employee at Community Alternatives in September 2008.
In his second year at Places for People, Seymour loves being a part of the recovery process for people living with severe mental illness.
“Helping people go for the dreams that they have that are a little bit more lofty than just getting out of bed in the morning—going to school, getting a job, saving money to go on a trip–it’s very rewarding.”