17th April 2018
A blog post by Occupational Therapist Kerry Lovell
For the next few weeks we are featuring our Day Therapy services. This week the focus is on the wonderful work of our palliative care staff. Today it’s the turn of Occupational Therapist Kerry to tell us about her work.
“Hello, my name is Kerry and I’m an Occupational Therapist.” is how I start when I introduce myself to patients, and the response is often “What does that mean?”
Whilst I have plenty of answers, it sometimes takes time to explain. One patient recently said to me “I think that talking to you has really helped me. I thought you were just going to help me with equipment and activities.” This is a familiar story. Yes, I can help with equipment and certainly I am keen to encourage everyone to participate in activities, but there is so much more.
Everyone brings a different set of circumstances to the Day Therapy Unit, and even in the short time that I have been part of the care team, I continue to be struck by the individual stories I hear.
Most recently we have enjoyed a project called “Global Wordsmiths” visiting. They are sponsored by the Arts Council to create an opportunity for story telling for patients and staff at the Hospice, and have met with us over a eight-week period.
The project is about thinking about the many pivotal moments in our lives and choosing just one subject or experience to develop into a story. We have been encouraged to think of this as a tree and to choose one moment as the main trunk of this tree. There may be many smaller branches to consider as our stories take us along different and unexpected experiences, but building a story allows a significant moment to be recalled and treasured. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the stories as they have developed, describing significant life and family events. Some of them are packed with humour, but more often they are poignant and uncover a part of us that we don’t always want to show or talk about directly.
I’ve recently listened to Geri Chavis,* author of a book called Poetry and Story Therapy, explaining that we are the only ones who can tell our story in the way we remember it happening to us. When we write or tell our story it becomes a chance to rewrite and shape our experiences. More importantly when we share it and people listen and respond we can feel counted, heard and empowered.
This is the kind of therapy that I enjoy the most. It is a therapy in disguise and demonstrates a little of what Occupational Therapy can offer. As a profession we work in many different settings from physical rehabilitation to mental health in all age groups. In a Hospice setting we work alongside people to help with symptom management such as breathlessness, fatigue and anxiety, in a group or on a one to one basis. I also really enjoy talking to people to find out what’s important to them and how I may be able help them to participate in something as simple as baking, gardening or exercise. Maybe just the opportunity to talk things through, listen to other people and share experiences can be helpful. Research* shows that using a creative therapy can make a considerable contribution to our overall health and well-being. It is such a pleasure to see that we can surprise ourselves with small achievements if we just find a different way to accomplish these things.
The stories created through this project by patients and staff will be put together in a book that will be launched at Waterstones on Saturday 9 June 2018. We are very much looking forward to that and hoping that the book will be bought and enjoyed by many. I hope we can continue this therapy after this project finishes.
Make sure you look out for the big launch!
*Geri Chavis: Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression (Writing for Therapy or Personal Development) 15 Feb 2011.
*All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry Report: Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing. July 2017