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Being Human

The second of Zoe Parker’s CPD blogs looks at the importance of maintaining humanity and “OTness”, and how CPD can help you keep in touch with your OT values.

I’ve been thinking about health and social care issues to share with you this week, and in searching articles and blogs online, I came across this from the Health Foundation: “It’s time clinical encounters became human encounters”.

I like a lot of the posts on the Health Foundation blog and website, but what stood out about this one was the title, because for a long time I’ve been thinking about the “us and them” involved in professionalism.

If I’m in role as an effective professional does that involve leaving my humanity at the door? I think that all too often people can decide to check their humanity in at the door because it’s simply too hard to cope emotionally if one becomes fully involved. People can retreat into formality and use jargon in order to protect themselves from the emotional implications of treating each individual they encounter as a human being rather than a patient, customer, client, service user or even more simply a nuisance who gets in the way of the professional’s target-driven mind-set.

As a lecturer in a school of education in a previous life I was guilty of laughing at the joke that the university would be running perfectly smoothly if only it weren’t for those pesky students and their needs and demands. Anybody who has found themselves frustrated to be working in a service that seems to be running for its own sake rather than for the people whom it was devised to help or serve may have heard echoes of the same kind of thinking. I think what’s special about OT is that it really is person-centred—in many other cases (without dissing other professions of course) that can be rhetoric rather than reality. So my feeling is that, although we are living in interesting times (in the words of the old Chinese curse), OTs are uniquely well placed to meet the challenges and turn a difficult situation into an opportunity to thrive and prosper.

“I am fascinated by what makes people tick. My core belief is that, although there is no obviously evident point to life, you can create one by believing that learning is the point. Learning how to love and lose is perhaps the hardest thing to do.” So goes my Facebook profile, pointing up the fact that, in my own life, coping with bereavement has been the biggest challenge.

I also sometimes get troubling queries from members who have found it hard to cope at work after a significant bereavement. Sometimes the workplace is none too supportive of staff who are in distress following a bereavement. So I was interested to read about a report called Life after death: six steps to improve life in bereavement

It’s been produced by Dying Matters, a coalition of 30,000 members raising awareness of death, dying and bereavement set up by the National Council for Palliative Care, the umbrella charity for all those involved in palliative, end of life and hospice care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the National Bereavement Alliance, who seem so new that they don’t have a website yet.

We have done a lot of work at COT around end of life care and we have a thriving Specialist Section for HIV, AIDS, Oncology and Palliative Care.

Insensitivity in the workplace and inhumane behaviour were highlighted in this story that appalled me. Relatives of one dying man were harassed by the professionals for being with him outside normal visiting hours. His mother said:

“One even said, ‘I’m sorry to spoil your fun, but visiting’s over. What’s fun about spending time with someone who’s dying?”

“Bradford Royal Infirmary criticised over patient’s care”, Telegraph & Argus

Another call for humane behaviour from a completely different context comes from Dan Pontefract’s call for business organisations to engage their employees:

“What it requires is for employees — bosses or not — to simply become humane.”

Holocracy Is Not The Answer To Your Employee Disengagement Issues, Dan Pontefract blog

This reminds me of the call in the paper on ILOD called Lifelong learning is meaningful occupationmoving forwards as a profession, for OT personnel to consider their core values and use their CPD to get back in touch with their “OTness” whilst trying to turn the workplace into a learning organisation. It makes the case for CPD and lifelong learning to be acknowledged as being at the heart of good practice. I suppose my argument in this post is that having a human heart is key to good practice!

Remaining a human being whilst acting professionally and in the best interests of service users links with Karen Middleton’s work on having a conversation about professionalism picked up on by Shelagh Morris (Acting Chief Allied Health Professions Officer) in the February edition of the AHP bulletin, where Shelagh highlights some work done by our regulator, the HCPC, to continue their discussions on professionalism. The idea proposed by Professor Zubin Austin that the professional journey is a journey of a thousand small steps is very appealing and echoes brilliantly with the OT facility for breaking down big daunting tasks into small achievable steps.

What does professionalism mean to you? Do you see CPD and lifelong learning as a means to stay in touch with your OT values and maintain your OTness and OT identity whilst developing your professionalism? I hope so.


8 thoughts on “Being Human

  1. Interesting blog – I work with veterans with PTSD – one of the issues they have is that they learn to dampen their emotions and our job is to reverse this process. They can read body language easily (it’s part of their training) and so if we try and build a therapeutic relationship without showing that human side we would not get very far. As OT’s we listen to their trauma’s which can be horrific, but for them it’s important that we give them encouragement to talk. Being human is something they think they no longer are, so I see our role as being very much human person centred. As OT’s we have the unique role of treating the human (person) not the diagnosis – which for me is the most important part. You have to have a heart to work with veterans, goodness knows they need that re-assurance that it is okay to have feelings – and we help them get in touch with those via our creative self awareness groups.
    Karen Miles (specialist OT) Combat Stress. http://www.combatstress.org.uk

    Posted by Karen Miles | March 3, 2014, 17:05
  2. I work with civilians with complex PTSD and would agree with Karen’s comments. I would add that one cannot hear & bear witness to other’s pain without being fully present and human. I have worked in many other areas of OT as well and the part of OT I have treasured is the human connection. We as OTs are tools for patients/clients/residents to use in their recovery. I would argue that both the client and the professional will get much more out of a human connection and relationship rather than a distant & detached one.

    Posted by Mark Flood OT, Traumatic Stress Service, St. John's, NL, Canada | March 4, 2014, 12:29
  3. Thank you so much for responding Karen and John – I feel really honoured that you have shared such insights from your practice.

    You also reminded me of the value of mindfulness to the practitioner in a very emotionally challenging relationship.

    This video is 9 minutes long but once I’d watched it it really lodged in my memory because Dr Stephen Liben is a paediatrician talking about how mindfulness improved his practice in caring for mothers and their dying babies

    I hope the link works!

    Posted by Zoe Parker (@cotcpd) | March 4, 2014, 14:29
  4. great blog, and some times a hard balance to make, gaging a true therapeutic relationship, being able to release and leave Work at work, and maintaining some sense of privacy.

    Posted by otrach | March 4, 2014, 21:43
  5. I work In low secure unit, as an OTs we engage service users in therapeutic activities and one of them is cooking. I see them struggle to plan healthy balanced food to lose weight. As OTs we encourage them to include fresh fruits and vegetables in their meal, but we do understand the side effect of medication which increases appetite and how hard it is to resist temptations. We empathise with them rather than sympathise with them or being judgemental.

    Vicky Asirvatham (Occupational Therapist)
    Low secure unit.

    Posted by Vicky Asirvatham | March 4, 2014, 22:54
  6. Thank you OTRach for your kind words and for pointing out why it’s sometimes hard staying human too – all part of our human frailty and fallibility I suppose. Sometimes OTs forget to be good OTs to themselves – then burnout can happen.

    Posted by Zoe Parker (@cotcpd) | March 5, 2014, 11:34
  7. Thank you Vicky for sharing such a concrete example it helps to bring my ideas to life a bit more by grounding them in real OT practice.

    Posted by Zoe Parker (@cotcpd) | March 5, 2014, 11:38
  8. Mindfulness is something we also teach our veterans with ptsd, and to be able to teach you need to be able to perform and experience. I think all OT’s should be trained as it can be used with every single client we come across, can be used when anxiety levels raise, when we become judgemental……its a wonderful tool to have on your utility belt I urge all my fellow OT’s to try and master it.

    Posted by Karen Miles | December 3, 2014, 08:55

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