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Breaking the mold on what services OTs can offer in primary care


Continuing our highlight of occupational therapists (OTs) for OT Month is Tianna and Melody, OTs at the STEPS Mental Health Rehabilitation Program, located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Melody and Tianna are both occupational therapists (OTs) with the STEPS Mental Health Rehabilitation Program, located in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). They offer support to people who have psychosocial rehabilitation goals.

"Our program is ground-breaking in that as OTs we are offering psychosocial rehabilitation to primary care clients," Tianna explains. "We're breaking the mold to what services OTs can offer in primary care."

Melody and Tianna work with a team which includes OTs, recreation therapists and a vocational counsellor, and they support residents of Vancouver on their recovery journey. Melody explains that their role as OTs is to "conduct assessments to identify clients' strengths and needs, and work with clients to establish goals and support their functioning. Our clientele has complex needs and many factors within the macro and micro-environment that influence their health – therefore, our job entails a lot of problem-solving and 'breaking the barriers' but also working around environmental barriers to help a client build a better life."

Getting Involved in the STEPS program

Five years ago, Melody was a new graduate and eager to work in the field of mental health. She had her student placements working with a mental-health outpatient team and in a shelter for people who were homeless.

"These unique experiences provided a glimpse and experience in working to support people with mental health barriers, the multitude of factors that influence a person's well-being, and how OTs are well positioned to support these individuals," she says.

Melody continues to say that she felt so lucky when the STEPS posting went up, as she knew this would be a perfect position for her to learn and to help support the people in the community of Vancouver.

Tianna was motivated to apply for her current, permanent role because she had previously been working in the DTES in a temporary role and fell in love with the neighbourhood. Tianna says that "the team and the program I work in have changed many times over the years, making this job exciting with so many future opportunities but also at times frustrating as nothing is constant in this field of work."

The most inspiring moments

When reflecting on the most inspirational moments of her career, Melody fondly remembers a time when she was assisting a client, who is a very talented artist and songwriter, to record music at the library. One day, they decided to record a music video. Melody says that her client brought in props and costumes, and sang her heart out.

"It was incredibly wonderful to see the joy that this meaningful occupation brought her and she was so proud of what she had done," she says. "It inspired me that OTs can play a big role in connecting and reconnecting clients with beloved occupations, and also being able to work with such creative, resilient and resourceful clients."

For Tianna, the most inspiring moments of her job are when her clients decide they don't need her services anymore, once they have learned their own personal self-management strategies that help them stay well.

"I love hearing stories when clients are using the skills they learned from our sessions in stressful or crisis situations," she says.

Team support & VCH values

"I feel very much supported by my team at VCH. My colleagues and I worked very well together; we have our strengths as individuals and our skill sets are very complementary," Melody says.

There is always a colleague to turn to for questions and conversations when needed to support clinical reasoning and actions, Melody explains.

"We all strive to better ourselves as clinicians, and therefore we continue with education and learning, and we often bring our learnings to the team for knowledge translation," she says.

Tianna agrees that she feels supported in this role, especially with having access to both an OT practice lead and a clinical resource therapist who offers mentorship and clinical support.

"I have asked both these occupational therapists for support in learning different assessments, learning evidence-based interventions and connecting me to different OTs who are specialized in different areas," she says.

To better herself as an OT, Melody strives to continue to learn and engage in professional development through participating in VCH initiatives and education. Melody says that her team "has an environment where we continue to learn each day through our experiences, clinical discussions, professional meetings and more." The office location of STEPS is in the DTES and many of the clientele lives in the same area. Melody finds this community to be "one of the ones with the most heart and truly embodying the VCH value of "we care for everyone" and one another."

"I absolutely love learning new information and interventions that can help me support my clients," says Tianna. She seeks out evidence-based research to help guide her sessions with her clients to ensure they are learning the most relevant and effective skills.

The team is very cohesive and fun, Melody says. They enjoy crosswords, workouts, funny gifs, eating donuts and overall enjoy working with one another. Tianna points out that it's very unique that the team is comprised of purely allied health professionals, all of who get along very well.

SOURCE: Breaking the mold on what services OTs can offer in primary care ( )
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