I met Jen in 2005 at the College of Occupational Therapists (COT) conference in Brighton. I had just finished my degree in occupational therapy and was excited by the future, passionate about occupational therapy and felt that the world was my oyster! I felt confident that I had made the right choice in my first job and indeed there were many advantages and opportunities within a private medium secure hospital but I felt stifled by 9-5 working that challenged the contextual dimensions of occupation. Suffice to say that by summer 2007 I was suffering from occupational alienation and looking to move to another post. But what did I want? I like Kipling’s six honest serving men and often put them into service (what, where, why, when, how and who). I worked out: Relationships and values are very important to me; I love working with women; I liked working with individuals with personality disorder but would settle for mental health. Rather than looking for what jobs were available I looked at the organisation first. What were their values? What was the mission statement? As a Quaker organisation, the values of The Retreat, York chimed with my own: equality and community, hope, care for our environment, courage, honesty and integrity. I rang to lodge an expression of interest in working for the organisation to be told “we are advertising next week for the therapeutic community”.
Having never heard of a Therapeutic Community (TC) before, I hit the Internet. It turned out that they were values based too! Rather than defining themselves by specific elements or methods, they share values which underline all aspects of the work. These ten ‘core values’ are translated into ‘core standards’ that are used to measure to what extent the TC ‘does what it says on the tin’. Through this process a TC can become accredited by the Community of Communities (part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Centre for Quality Improvement). Fast forward three months and I had fallen in love. I already loved my profession, but it was the group interview that did it. 8 candidates, 6 staff members & 3 community members – turns out I love groups. I had also found a context that fit – a therapeutic community.
The Acorn Programme was the first TC to be accredited and accepts women with complex needs from all over the UK. These women predominantly meet the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder and/or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although increasingly we have referrals for individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) as well. The 12 month programme uses intensive psychological therapies, including group therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), to empower the women who use the service in sharing responsibility for their recovery while containment is provided by staff in collaboration with them.
Although being fully aware that I was applying for a post as an integrated occupational therapist, the prospect was none the less daunting. I was concerned about staying true to the philosophy of occupational therapy while undertaking ‘generic’ tasks. As it turns out I am quite the weaver. Last year I presented a seminar at COT Conference on “Interweaving psychotherapeutic techniques in Occupational Therapy” as well as a poster on Mindfulness. This year it is a workshop on “It is not just sitting and breathing: a straightforward guide to mindfulness” and a facilitated poster, “Mourning the burnout: occupational disruption and Kübler-Ross”. I co-facilitate a psychotherapy group as well as being an individual DBT therapist, inpatient care co-ordinator and co-facilitator of the Graduate Group (for women who have successfully completed the programme). It happens that I can’t help but bring an occupational perspective to every aspect of Acorn.
However, having my dream job has a significant draw back…What next?
I haven’t yet found the answer as I love my clinical work. Having said that I want to teach and write and am always looking for opportunities to be involved in collaborations or teaching/assessing at universities. I am actively trying to network with others with similar interests; Therapeutic Communities, Mindfulness, Occupational Science, Trauma, Dissociative Identity Disorder, & Group work. Beyond that who knows what the next step of the dream may be.
If you would like to know more, network or have a general sharing of ideas, I am contactable on LinkedIn (there is only one of me) or by email firstname.lastname@example.org