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“Students Looking Out For Students:” University of Cumbia and Lancaster University Offer Occupational Therapy Placements

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Over the past three years the University of Cumbria and Lancaster University have been offering Occupational Therapy students the opportunity to work within the Interdisciplinary Counselling and Mental Health Team on placements.

Lancaster University’s Mental Health Advisor, Julian Morris, has been supervising the program alongside University of Cumbria Occupational Therapy Lecturer, Bel Youngson. The program was initially piloted back in September 2019, led by two Cumbia students offering an eight week Occupational Therapy service.

Since then it has grown from strength to strength, offering students a safe space to talk about difficulties they’re facing and develop strategies to make everyday life more manageable.

Despite Occupational Therapy in Universities remaining a fairly recent development with only a few other programs running in Ireland and North America, the benefits are unprecedented with it’s unique focus on “doing” as both the means and ends of actions to bring about change in “human connection and occupational engagement.”

Taking a closer look into the evolution of such a unique well-being program within the University, SCAN reached out to both Bel Youngson and Julian Morris for more insight into both the program’s development and it’s past year during the Pandemic.

As previously mentioned the program was initially piloted in September 2019, focusing on social anxiety, the transition to University and understanding/appreciating a sense of self. The program had a degree of physical interaction, engaging with students through shopping trips, outings to places that may cause anxiety and even creative therapy.

The program ran again the following year with two third year BSc Occupational Therapy students, Janet Regan and Debbie Mahoney and first year MSc student, Abbie Pearson. This stage of the program introduced the OBCD framework.

OBCD, Occupation Based Community Development, is a value based practice that places “doing” and collaboration at the centre of the process. OBCD was first developed in South Africa where many students were marginalized and assumed to fail. This model allowed the people to collaboratively address issues and strategize solutions, e.g. the introduction of homework clubs.

With this in mind, it’s obvious why this approach was adopted by the program as it encourages students to solve their own issues in a sustainable manner. Instead of being told what will help, this framework opens the door to groupwork which has incidentally been the program’s focus for the last year.

In spite of the limitations of the Pandemic, this year’s placement still went ahead with BSc Occupational Therapy students, Anna Laurence and Sarah Johnson conducting their placements over Microsoft Teams.

Working closely with eight individuals, Anna and Sarah have held weekly drop in meetings as well as follow up meetings which were very successful.

Despite the limitations of online meetings making it far harder to engage with behavioural/physical wellbeing, Anna noted that, the atmosphere in every meeting was always very relaxed with no awkward pauses during discussions and even after meetings, students were giving positive feedback.

The future of the program is looking very bright with Julian Morris confirming plans for further placements in the coming years.

Not only does this program do a great service to the Well-Being Team here at Lancaster University, but it also gives Occupational Therapy students invaluable experience in the field which is wonderful to see.

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