Fieldwork- OT in mental health

I attended fieldwork today at a hospital. The only area I was hoping not to be put into was mental health. Not because it’s an area I dislike or am afraid of. Rather, I already know what occupational therapy involves in mental health. Guess where I ended up? Yep, mental health.

It was my fault really. The five of us OT students were asked if we had an interest in mental health. I piped up and said yes, not realising it’s because she wanted to put one of us with that area. I then tried to subtly withdraw my interest…which was not very professional of me… 😐 Made up for it later though!

So the OT and I walked down to the mental health unit. “You’re not worried or anything are you?” she asked me. I assured her I wasn’t. Because today was totally my first time walking into a mental health unit.

I was shown parts of the ward. Wasn’t actually allowed to enter the High Dependency Unit and open ward and only got a brief glimpse of the mental health rehabilitation unit. Time was also spent explaining to me about the ward and mental health. I let her know after a bit that I’m not a total novice, I do volunteer for two mental health organisations. “What made you interested in volunteering?” she asked me. Yes. Good question.

The OT was planning to conduct an interview/assessment with one of the outpatients who’d been discharged and have me sit in so that I could observe. Which was all well and good…except the client didn’t show up! So then more time was spent with her talking about what she does as a mental health OT and me asking questions.

She remarked that when she first met me, it seemed as though I was pushed into coming to mental health and that some people are a bit worried/afraid of this area. Oops. Guess my attempt to withdraw was not so subtle after all. Only because I want to experience another area of OT though, and we only get one day in a hospital this semester. It’s not because I’m uninterested, I swear! I think I managed to redeem myself though when I demonstrated that I am keen in this area and somewhat knowledgeable about it…I hope so anyway.

I was disappointed though when I heard the experiences of others who had gone to other areas of the hospital. One had observed a client receiving hand therapy. One had gone with an OT to do a home visit. Another was in the Emergency Department where they actually worked with a couple of clients. The client I was supposed to meet and observe was a no show.

It felt somewhat weird being in the mental health unit. Especially as a student, someone who’s assumed to be just a student and not a mental health consumer who’s been an inpatient before.  I have to pretend I’m not one of the people she’s talking about when she mentions patients that are at risk of self harm or suicide, that abscond from hospital, that have depression and social anxiety. There’s a part of me who wants to be the professional and move forward. Yet there’s also a part of me that does get tempted to go back, to just be a patient, be self destructive, prove that I’m sick. Just have to push that part of me back.

5 thoughts on “Fieldwork- OT in mental health

  1. I understand totally the last two sentences “Yet there’s also a part of me that does get tempted to go back, to just be a patient, be self destructive, prove that I’m sick. Just have to push that part of me back.” Yesterday I was doing DBT at the hospital I used to go to. I walked onto the ward before group to get a coffee and I was overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to just be in there. I also have to go inside there for morning tea and lunch and the rest of the time we are in a group room around the back of the hospital. It’s really hard though isn’t it? It sounds like you are doing a good job student wise though. Hope it all goes well.

  2. Keep pushing, you will feel so much better when you’re all qualified and helping people, rather than being the one that needs the help, You can do it! xxx

  3. wow – well done you. Ok, can understand you wanting to see other areas of OT, but that time will come. And great at appearing so “normal” that she suspected you were worried!!! I’ve only got one final placement to go in my training and it’ll be my first mental health placement – I’m already shitting myself that as soon as I turn up, somehow they’ll all KNOW that I’ve been a mental patient. And keeping myself calm when I hear stereotypical stigmatised comments – eg when so-called-experts are talking derogatory about clients and self-harm/suicide/bpd etc etc.

    It;s good that you recognise that temptation to almost fall back in to that illness role again – sometimes I think remembering that it could so easily switch is good for client-centred practice. It’s a reminder that clients youre working with have lives outside of needing ot.

    And about the client not turning up – you so have to get used to that as an ot, and its especially frustraing when your practice educator on placement has gone oooo this person will be really interesting for you as a student…..and then they don’t turn up!!!

    Good luck with your assignment. My tutor always tells me that the only reason uni’s are so pedantic about presentation style, is to see students jump through hoops, just like seals! you have to prove you can follow some idotic bureacrates decisions – not unlike life in the nhs in the UK – so good practice!!!

    keep going!

  4. quite fascinating as I was in your situation 15 years ago – an OT student doing fieldwork at a mental health facility – although I was not yet a mental health patient (even though deep down I knew I probably should have been which I believe is why I was drawn to this field.) I didn’t become a patient until five years after that.

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