A mental health pathway.
Article Type: Letter to the editor
Author: Neville, Diane
Pub Date: 04/01/2011
Publication: Name: British Journal of Occupational Therapy Publisher: College of Occupational Therapists Ltd. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 College of Occupational Therapists Ltd. ISSN: 0308-0226
Issue: Date: April, 2011 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 4
Accession Number: 254827354
Full Text: Madam,

I was interested to read the opinion piece by Bannigan et al (2011) about current undergraduate programmes and whether they are equipping students with the skills to work in modern mental health practice, as well as suggesting options for providing specialised mental health training at undergraduate level. Their argument was prompted by the large numbers of policy and legislative developments there have been in recent years within mental health services, and challenges such as generic working. With reference to Recovering Ordinary Lives (College of Occupational Therapists 2006), they also emphasise the importance of not losing a focus on the core skills of therapeutic use of occupation and activity analysis alongside these changes, and how easily this could happen.

As a third-year occupational therapy student, I am struck by the lack of emphasis currently placed on those said 'core skills' of the profession during the course. With a significant focus on theory, policy and evidence-based practice at university, activity analysis and therapeutic use of occupation are a smaller part of the curriculum, which is undermining the experience students have of putting them into practice. Within mental health services particularly, holding on to core occupational therapy skills is important when trying to retain your identity as an occupational therapist in the face of generic working. A lesser focus on occupation during training makes it easier to relinquish those skills as a professional, and ominously risks promoting generic roles over those of occupational therapists. I would say undergraduate programmes are already in danger of losing sight of training students in the core skills required of an occupational therapist and should worry about that before considering specialising. That said, discussions I have had with fellow students suggest that mental health practice placements have often had a more clearly defined occupational therapy role, and focused on a wider range of occupations compared with physical settings, where occupations have largely been limited to self-care and meal preparation. Perhaps it is within physical health services that occupational therapists need to rethink their focus on occupation?

With regard to changing the undergraduate programme and introducing specialised courses, I am not sure I would like to have to choose to specialise so early, presumably even as I was applying for the course. Even now, I still would like to experience a range of physical and mental health settings on a rotation before deciding to specialise when I have more experience.

Diane Neville, Third-year Occupational Therapy Student.

Bannigan K, Lewis P, Laver-Fawcett A, Wolverson C, Long C, Cadman D, Cotterill D (2011) Is it time for a mental health pathway in undergraduate programmes? British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74(3), 153-55.

College of Occupational Therapists (2006) Recovering ordinary lives: the strategy for occupational therapy in mental health services 2007-2017. London: COT.
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