‘You can see the difference you are making’ - Norfolk occupational therapist tells of the joys of the job

Debs Agar, occupational therapist with NSFT. Photo: NSFT

Debs Agar, occupational therapist with NSFT. Photo: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

An occupational therapist inspired to pursue an NHS career thanks to the care her grandma received has described the satisfaction she gets from helping people regain their independence.

Debs Agar has worked for the region's mental health trust since qualifying in 2012, and moved to her current role within the wellbeing and therapy team, on the 15-bedded Thurne assessment ward at Norwich's Hellesdon Hospital, last November.

She said she 'absolutely loves' her job and the variety it brings, which includes supporting patients to engage in meaningful activities on the ward, to preparing them for discharge by assessing their independent living skills, such as cooking, self-care and financial management.

Ms Agar, who lives just outside Norwich, said: 'I originally wanted to go into teaching but changed my mind after I saw the way an occupational therapist worked with my grandma when she fell ill. They enabled her to engage in activities of daily living while promoting her independence, and I really liked the way they supported her to do her best.

'I fell in love with mental health and how complex and rewarding it was while on a placement during my training. I really enjoyed the in-depth care I was able to give and decided that mental health was the area I'd like to specialise in.'

When a patient is first admitted to the ward, Ms Agar will carry out an initial OT assessment so that she can get to know them and their circumstances and find out more about their hobbies and interests and the level of support they receive at home.

She will then do what she can to normalise their hospital stay so that they can stick to their usual daily pattern and still take part in activities, such as going to arts and crafts sessions, the gym, or out for a coffee.

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She also plays a key role helping colleagues to develop their own skills by carrying out clinical and line management supervision.

'I feel very fortunate and absolutely love my job – it's really rewarding,' she said. 'It involves lots of variety as we aim to look after the whole person and their overall wellbeing.

'This could include preparing people for discharge by finding community resources they want to engage in or looking at supported living or personal assistants who could help them. I may need to order equipment such as grab rails so that the person is able to stay at their own home. I also do a lot of work promoting self-help techniques and encouraging people to develop their own methods to manage their own mental health with the aim of making their day-to-day life easier.

'In addition, I will look at the impact which mental health difficulties can have on a patient's physical health, such as affecting their ability to cook for themselves and get the right nutrition. Once we've identified any issues, we will try and empower the patient to overcome them by building their own skills, maintaining independence and staying out of hospital.

'We work with people of all ages with a wide range of different conditions who come from varied backgrounds and cultures, which makes the role really interesting. As Thurne is quite a fast-paced ward, you are also able to see people progress quickly, which is great as you can really see the difference that you and your colleagues are making.'

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is celebrating the vital contribution which occupational therapists make to improving the lives of service users during a special week designed to raise awareness of the profession.

Occupational Therapy Week, which is organised by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, runs until November 12. This year carrying the theme 'I am an occupational therapist', it encourages OTs to talk about the value they add to the lives of thousands of people every week.

At NSFT, OTs will celebrate by filming 15 second clips on their phones sharing interesting facts about their profession for circulation to colleagues, while a live Skype meeting will take place during Friday lunchtime to connect OTs across the trust.

In addition, service users are being asked for feedback explaining how occupational therapy has helped them. One ex-service user from Suffolk has already responded, they said: 'After a breakdown I found myself in a very dark and frightening place. My mind had convinced me I was going to be attacked… I became a prisoner in my own home. My mind had turned against me and I was having severe panic attacks and flashbacks. I really wanted to die.

'Then I met my occupational therapist and consultant psychiatrist. Gradually through trust, and hard work it started to happen. My OT would bring sheets of paperwork about my condition with tools to help me, like relaxation techniques, flashcards to read when I felt scared or anxious, techniques to bring me out of panic attacks and breathing exercises.

'Because of him, slowly I learned to face my demons and own my mental health.'

For more information about Occupational Therapy Week click here.

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