Working full time for Lancashire County Council, Yvonne provides occupational therapy for clients with a wide range of physical disabilities and neurological disorders across West Lancashire, Chorley, South Ribble and Preston.
Part of a team of three, Yvonne loves her work, finding it both rewarding and empowering. “The reason I chose to be an OT was because I enjoy helping people,” she tells us. “To empower, encourage and promote someone’s independence can bring so much joy. To watch someone’s self- esteem grow as they overcome adversity and learn to live with their disability or illness is so rewarding.”
Occupational therapists help people with mental, physical or social disabilities to carry out everyday tasks or occupations independently. They work with children and adults of all ages, whose difficulties may have been present since birth, or the result of an accident, illness, ageing or lifestyle. Yvonne believes her work allows clients to see light at the end of the tunnel – to believe that they can live with their disability or illness and still have a good quality of life. Providing a stair lift to allow someone to sleep upstairs with their partner or to use the upstairs toilet rather than a commode downstairs, for example, provides the normality to a family’s life that many of us take for granted.
No two of Yvonne’s working days are ever the same. As well as working in the community and completing home visits, she is required to write up assessments and other documentation. “I love to get out and about. Driving up and down country lanes can be lovely on a sunny day and I usually stop off at one of the little village cafes for my lunch. Although there’s an office, I do have the facility to work from home, which really helps when I need some quiet time to type up assessments.
The skills Yvonne needs for her job are diverse. Problem solving is high on the list as occupational therapists are responsible for providing equipment and advising on possible adaptations of a client’s property to allow them to remain in their own home. “Identifying the needs of a client and finding a solution is a huge part of my job,” she tells us. “For example, one lady I worked with had not been able to get into the bath for several years and only stripped washed, due to her disability. Together, we came up with an action plan involving a relatively small adaptation to her property - a level-access shower facility – that enabled her to wash independently. The first time she used her new shower, she let the water run on her face and body for over an hour and cried with happiness. Afterwards, she told me she felt wonderful, that life was worth living again. It’s easy to take the small things in life for granted. Providing that small adaptation improved my client’s quality of life as well as the lives of her family members.”
Good communication skills are also required. Over the years, Yvonne has honed her verbal, non-verbal and listening skills. She’s also learnt the importance of focusing on the positive. “I find my life-coaching skills always help when faced with adversity. Speaking in a calm tone and with an open posture often helps when clients and their families are unhappy, perhaps because of the length of time they’ve waited for an assessment. I often find giving a rational explanation calms the situation. It's all about people skills at the end of the day.”
Being constantly aware of your surroundings and the ability to ‘risk assess’ is also important. As a lone worker, community-based occupational therapists must assess the referral, the environment they’re entering, the moving and handling of clients as well as their own safety at all times.
When asked what advice she would give to occupational therapists embarking on their career, Yvonne would tell them to be confident and always keep the reasons they chose occupational therapy as a career at the forefront of their minds. “Remember, you’ll be making a big difference to your clients’ lives, increasing their wellbeing and independence. Don't be afraid to ask questions and, most importantly, go out and make a difference!”
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