What is an occupational therapy placement like?

It’s the question I am asked time and again by family, friends and prospective students. To be honest, there isn’t one answer to this question. It depends on you as a person and what your interests and experiences are and of course the placement you are provided by your university. Of course, because occupational therapy students are still learning there is a limit to what duties they can carry out, but the more interest, understanding, and professionalism showed the more opportunities arise. There are many different clinical realities for occupational therapy because it is such a versatile and widespread vocation. As I have just completed my second-year placement I’ve decided to write a little bit about what that was like and what I learned from it.

Where was your placement based?

For this placement, I was working in an outpatient setting seeing people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis [CFS/ME]. It was quite a controversial placement in the fact it was labeled as mental health by my university but in fact was very focused on science and physiological symptoms – an ongoing issue in the diagnosis and treatment of CFS/ME.

CFS/ME is a diagnosis given by elimination of other possible and contributing conditions that present with the same symptoms. Health professionals are still unsure what causes CFS/ME and further research needs to be conducted, however, it can be diagnosed using the Fukuda criteria based on the presence of four or more characteristic symptoms including post-exertional malaise, chronic fatigue, generalised widespread pain and autonomic symptoms. All of which you can read more about here.

The service I worked alongside covered all aspects of CFS/ME from assessing symptoms and diagnosis through education and rehabilitation to planning for setbacks and discharge. The multidisciplinary team included nurses, dieticians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists to offer all aspects of care detailed in the BACME and NICE guidelines.

Image credit: Alexander Technique London

What sort of thing did you do?

In the team occupational therapists triaged people referred to the service through a thorough clinical evaluation that takes full physical, mental and social history alongside the history of symptoms. If the criteria were met the therapists would then give a diagnosis of CFS/ME, however more complicated cases were taken back to the weekly meeting to be discussed with the wider MDT.

The service provided individual or group educational and rehabilitation focussed sessions for people to make sense of their condition and work towards the management of symptoms and recovery. This included information on pacing and grading, stress and quality rest, employment and diet amongst other areas with a view to meeting the individual’s goals and improving their quality of life.

What did you learn?

This is the first placement I have been on where occupational therapists were diagnosing people and I am aware this is a rarity which made it an extremely valuable learning opportunity for me. Alongside continuing to improve my core occupational therapy skills and meet my learning outcomes I was given the opportunity to discuss the impact and controversy of high profile research papers on the patient community and services provided and why evidence-based practice is essential.

Throughout the placement I increased my knowledge of the regulatory and immune systems, and how these impact on brain function as well as one another. I also did a lot of reading on common co-morbidities such as functional neurological disorder, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, inflammatory diseases and autoimmune conditions which helped to improve my clinical reasoning and reflect on my current practice.

I was introduced to more standardised assessments and outcome measures that are used across a variety of settings as well as condition-specific models and assessments.

Where can I find out more?

If you want to find out more about CFS/ME then the ME Association is a good place to start. It offers information, support, and advice as well as details of regular support groups across the country.

For more information on managing the condition and first-hand accounts of how CFS/ME can affect people I would recommend the following books, blogs, and documentaries:

Jennifer Brea – Unrest

Fighting Fatigue

Action for ME

A snoozie life

Occupy ME


Is that really our song?

My three year wedding anniversary has passed recently and between placement and work G and I didn’t really get chance to celebrate. Still, being the gem that he is G bought The Wombats Glitterbug album on vinyl for us both to enjoy. I’ve been listening to it recently and it got me thinking about ‘our song’.

If you ask G he will always tell you that a) we don’t have one particular song as ‘our song’ because we’re both indecisive music lovers and b) if he had to choose one it would be something from the AM album like Arabella or Knee Socks. But I’m not sure…

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Blogging and Professionalism as an Allied Health Care Student

School time has rolled around again (just me or did that disappear really fast?) and I am once again back at university. We’ve been dropped in at the deep end – which I love – and I have loads to be getting on with. But one topic that kept coming up was that of professionalism and professional boundaries. Which got me thinking –

as a future health care professional, is talking about my mental health issues openly online a professional thing to do?

To be honest, I don’t have a clue, I started blogging long before changing my career and it’s a very helpful part of processing and reflecting on my thoughts and emotions. Yet after a few discussions and a little reading I’m still in two minds about whether it’s a professional thing for me to do. It seems it’s a bit of a contentious subject.

The College of Occupational Therapists [COT] Code of ethics and professional conduct which regulates my study and future profession says:

4.1: As practitioners you are not just accountable for your competence, but also for your actions and behaviours, both inside and external to the workplace.

4.1.3: You must be aware of and take responsibility for your conduct when using any form of social media. The content of this Code should be applied to social media
use, whether for work or personal purposes.

To me, this implied that anything I share on social media (blog included) needs to be something I would happily take responsibility of and standby if it was discussed in a professional setting. So far so good, the things I write I feel are open, honest and clearly express my point of view.

However, it also states:

4.2: You must act with honesty and integrity at all times. You must not engage in any criminal or otherwise unlawful or unprofessional behaviour or activity which is likely to damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. I openly discuss my mental health – the good and difficult aspects. For some people learning that I have a mental health condition will damage their confidence in me simply because of the stigma that exists in society. Others, of course, it won’t. Yet because everyone is individual and has their own thoughts, prejudices, experiences, and expectations of healthcare professionals there are bound to be a lot of differing opinions on the topic.

Still unsure on where I stood I had a chat with one of my lecturers about it. Her opinion was that as long as I am sharing my views in a professional manner (which I think I am, right?) then it is simply adding to the literature available and enhancing the lived experience dialogue. I did, however, need to consider that future employers will search social media when vetting candidates so I would need to be upfront about my condition.

That isn’t a problem for me, deciding to blog about my mental health meant that family, old school friends, work colleagues and new friends all had the ability to read about my experiences. Which is often extremely scary but for me worth it in the long run. I don’t believe that my blogging on this topic can be seen as unprofessional but as always I do still have those little niggling doubts.

Any other healthcare students that are also bloggers, what are your thoughts?

Chocolate Strawberry Muffins | 292 cal

Fancy a sweet treat? These little gems might not be the healthiest of treats but they taste really good (even if I do say so myself) and are both gluten and dairy free! The mixture makes 12 moist muffins to share with friends and family – if you’re feeling extra extravagant why not serve them warm with a chocolate sauce for a real treat.

You will need

Muffin tin
Muffin cases

For the muffins

300g gluten-free flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp gluten free bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
300g granulated sugar
375ml unsweetened almond milk
125ml olive oil
100g strawberries
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the sauce

3 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp honey
50g unsweetened almond milk

Chocolate Muffins


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, xanthan gum, bicarbonate soda and sugar into a large bowl
  3. Chop and partially mash the strawberries
  4. Add milk, oil, vanilla extract and mashed strawberries to a pan over a medium heat and whisk until combined
  5. Mix wet and dry ingredients together thoroughly and distribute into muffin cases
  6. Bake for 20-25  or until skewer comes out clean and cool on a wire rack

What are your favourite baking treats?

Shaving vs Epilation: My experience

As a student I can’t really afford to keep heading to the beauty salon to have my legs waxed, especially with G wanting to progress with this career as well. The thing is I hate shaving my legs. Not because I don’t like hair-free legs or I’m lazy (even though I am quite lazy) but because I don’t like the thick black hairs you get as a result of it, or the fact the results only last for a couple of days.

I considered doing my own waxing at home, but after a misguided attempt with waxing strips when I was 18 – which has left a permanently bald section on my shin – I didn’t think it was a good idea (or know if I could put myself through that again). Which left me with two options; work more hours so I can afford to have my legs waxed or try epilation. Obviously, I went for epilation.

Image Credit: http://www.phillips.co.uk

Epilation with Phillips

The way an epliator works is essentially the same as tweezers. The rotating discs of the epilator tweeze the hairs from the skin by the root giving a longer lasting smoothness as well as a thinner and fainter regrowth. The model I chose came with two speed settings which allowed me to adapt the epilation for different areas, as well as a shaver head and trimmer cap for areas a little too sensitive for epilation. Because the package also includes a power cable, removable, washable heads and cleaning brush I don’t have to constantly spend money on razors. Looking on the Phillips website now there are plenty more options available, even ones with spa attachments for facial cleansing and epilation.

I spent around £50 on the one I bought (which I got around 2 years ago) and that was the basic model (Satinelle HP6423) that I can use on my legs, underarms and bikini area. I’ve never waxed my underarms and to this day still shave them – I just don’t think pain in your underarm is natural – but I’ve had bikini waxes before and didn’t think anything of it. However, epilating the bikini area is A LOT more painful than I would have thought, and something that I have to prepare myself for. Legs are a different ball game all together. After the first two or three attempts I felt nothing more than a minor pinch and happily epilate my legs whenever I need to.

Having tried it out I am most definitely a convert to epliation rather than shaving, but some people still tell me they find it really difficult. Have you tried epilation? I’d love to hear your take on it.

Mature Student Guilt

I don’t know if this is really a thing or whether it’s just me but the ‘mature student guilt’ has really been getting to me over the past few months – especially since summer came around and I’m no longer in taught lectures. What am I on about? The pervasive feeling of guilt whenever my husband talks about his career goals, we’re struggling for extra cash or we don’t have the disposable income to do something we really want to.

As someone who used to earn a crust I’ve been finding it more and more difficult to be a student in the financial sense. I have a part time job, a bursary (thank goodness I got the last year of them!) and a maintenance loan to see me through and technically we aren’t struggling, but it was my choice that took us from being a two income household that could afford a holiday and the odd night out to having to budget every last penny. At times it makes me feel like the worst person in the world. I can easily entertain myself for nothing, find ways to socialise without spending much and create a household budget that keeps costs low and I do any chance I get. Yet because I am no longer significantly contributing to our income I feel like a freeloader and a burden – not great when a marriage is meant to be a team.

You might already be aware that G (my husband) wants to become a commercial pilot – something which I support wholeheartedly, but it is an inherently expensive process. Had I stayed in my previous role he could have already made some serious steps forward but it may have cost me my mental health. The decision for me to go back to university was one we made together. In fact G encouraged me despite my concerns about finances, his career aspirations and our quality of life should I become a student again. He still supports my decision and honestly doesn’t complain, but each month as birthdays, family events and general life expenses get in the way his aspirations get pushed to the back of the list while he supports us.

It’s an incredibly bitter pill to swallow when I am fully committed to chasing mine and I’m really struggling with it at the minute. It’s something we talk about a lot and although there isn’t any resentment (that he shows me) and he consistently offers reassurance and support when I question whether it was the right decision, it’s difficult to see yourself holding back the person you love. It’s like trying to run a three legged race at different paces; you’re heading for the same finish line but you keep tripping each other up and just can’t get it right. If anyone has any advice on how to feel like less of a burden I’d greatly appreciate it because I just don’t know what to do with myself.

Fellow mature students – is this a common feeling or is my situation a unique one?

How Body Weight Workouts At Home Have Worked For Me

So today’s post is a bit different. Before I begin I want to state that I am not a health professional, I don’t have all the answers and this isn’t an advice post – just a discussion about what I found works for me. As you can guess from the title it’s about strength training – a recent change to my workout routine. I am by no means a gym bunny and still have a considerable amount of fat to lose but I’m on my way and that’s what matters to me.

Before this I rarely worked out. I went for walks along the river and cycled or walked to and from uni – that was it. I was overweight (or obese if you believe in BMI scales) and extremely unhappy with my body. I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know where to start. I’d tried a few workout apps before but had only really stuck to them for a few days. Really I wanted a workout buddy but no one I knew was in the same frame of mind as me. That’s when I came across Fit Girls; an exercise regime with a HUGE supportive online community designed to get women back into exercise and healthy habits in a fun and accessible way. I decided I’d give it a go – if I didn’t follow it so what?


In the same way that slimming world works better than tackling weight loss alone because you are accountable to your group of slimmers, FGG works because you are accountable to the online community. I’ve made so many friends through this community and it has really helped me carry on with my fitness goals being able to chat to and share with like minded people. These guys and girls understand that no one is perfect, embrace the odd indulgence and share healthy recipes, encourage you to drink more water with the hashtag #sdac – stop drop and chug – and post sweaty selfies post workout so you don’t feel like you’re the only one that looks like a tomato afterwards.

Planning To Exercise

The biggest change that has kept me on track is knowing what I am doing in advance. Sounds silly and really simple but before FGG I would tell myself I needed to workout but never give myself a plan. So when it came to exercising I would shrug it off because I didn’t really want to do it and didn’t know where to start. With a mixed weekly exercise plan of strength training and cardio that feels achievable I’ve actually stuck at it (even when I really didn’t want to) and noticed some surprising changes in myself both physical and mental. There are still days when I really don’t want to exercise – it’s not magically become fun but I do enjoy the feeling of accomplishment once I’ve completed my workout and the changes I can see in my body.

Eating Well Not Dieting

One of the biggest draws for me was that FGG wasn’t a strict meal plan. I don’t like being told what to eat, especially if I have to eat 6-8 times a day, buy everything from a health food store and can’t adjust it to my tastes. FGG gives you a few recipe ideas, reinforces what is healthy and what isn’t and sends you on your way. With my IBS I’m currently unable to eat gluten or dairy (all the tasty food) which has made choosing healthily easier as I don’t really have any other choice – unless you count bloated and in pain. But it has led me to rediscover my love of cooking and have fun with different flavours. There are some incredible gluten and dairy free cookbooks out there (Barbara Cousins and Madeleine Shaw anyone?), so I’ve found a whole host of ‘new favourite’ recipes that are healthy, tasty and gluten and dairy free. If you’re interested drop me a comment and I’ll share a few on the blog.

Strength Training Vs Cardio

It’s important to have a mix of strength training and cardio in all good exercise regimes according to pretty much everyone on the internet. I can’t really comment on the validity of that because I’m not a personal trainer, but since starting FGG – which is  a mix of body weight strength training and cardio – I have noticed changes in my body shape that I have never had before.

On previous health kicks I would eat well and head out jogging, jump on a cross trainer, go to a dance class or practice yoga. I would get fit and drop some weight but my body shape never changed. I was still jiggly in all the same places, there was just less of me to jiggle. I didn’t like strength training because it was hard work and I didn’t want to build loads of muscle. Yet I still complained when my arms were a little flabby and my inner thighs looked unappealing.

I’m now on my second round of FGG and while I’ve lost some weight I don’t really care because I’m happier with the shape I see when I look in the mirror. My arms and inner thighs still need some work but I can see the shape of them changing and I no longer feel the need to hide them away. I still need to lose some fat from my middle but my waist is coming back, and I can see the tone of my muscles under the excess weight. I feel strong and capable – something which I haven’t felt in a long time – and I constantly wonder why it has taken me so long to do this.

Home Workout Cost

There are plenty of free workouts available online but they usually only target one area of the body. Whilst I could fashion an exercise regime from them I don’t really know what I’m doing and could be expecting too much or too little of myself. There are plenty of plans and apps available to suit everyone, some that require subscriptions and those that don’t. As a student I chose FGG because it was a one-off payment rather than a monthly fee. I’ve also found FitnessBlender who provide thousands of free workout videos on YouTube as well as one-off payment workout programmes from $5.99. I’ve bought some equipment – namely some girly dumbells, a snazzy exercise mat and some resistance bands. You don’t need them to get started with but I’ve enjoyed the chance to make my workouts a bit harder on the days I’ve felt I needed more of a challenge. I’m still on my fitness journey and trying to figure out what works best for me but I can definitely say that the change in shape I’ve achieved from strength training has just motivated me even more.

If you’re interested in following my fitness journey I have separate insta and Twitter accounts (so I don’t bore those who aren’t interested), feel free to add me and share your tips and advice.


Facing Terror with Defiance

I don’t usually publicly comment on news and politics as it just causes arguments but this is something that I felt the need to share. All the terrorist attacks recently have left me astonished, shocked and honestly quite scared. But as I sat watching the news in tears and wondering what if anything could do about it I realised that my fear is exactly what they want. Manchester is where I grew up; where I went out clubbing, met boys, spent my wages as soon as I got them and experienced so many things for the first time. I don’t have a great love for the city and only visit now to see people, but it still tore a piece of my heart when it was attacked if not only because there are so many people I love that call it home. Yet it is the resilience and out pouring of love from the people of Manchester that reminded me what it is I can do.

Fight hate with love

Daesh (or ISIS) want to fill the world with hate. To turn societies and communities against each other through fear, racism and anger. By attacking western cities they incite (a justifiable) anger and an inbuilt human need for justice. Would the world be a better place without Daesh? Of course! Is bombing the countries in which they have a stronghold or sending in troops the answer? On reflection, probably not.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think peace talks or trying to reason with them is the answer; in fact I believe that would be impossible. My knee jerk reaction is that these militants need to go, but every increase in fighting only causes more pain and suffering for the everyday people living in the area they have taken over. After years of living on the breadline in fear for your life because of bombs and fighting it’s only natural that a resentment would build. That is what gives them their foothold to turn people to their cause. It recruits for them and furthers their belief that their war is justified – we are playing into their hands.

“ISIS believes that Muslims have no place in a Western society, and that the two worlds can’t coexist. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.”

I don’t believe that by showing love to everyone we will overcome their threat. Common sense is still required – vet people, ask questions and report suspicions. More and more people are ‘home grown’ militants and we need to be vigilant and protect ourselves from the war they are waging, but in the same vein a blanket reaction of suspicion and hatred won’t work either. Thankfully, in the wake of the most recent atrocities I have seen more cohesion and love between the different cultures in the UK and less division and racism which has been heartening. Manchester’s One Love concert showed how strong we can be together when we choose love – something which is easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

Daesh not ISIS

Still there is one thing that continues to irritate me – popular media still uses the phrase ISIS. There are many reasons for it which I won’t go into. Rather than building them up and giving them legitimacy by using their name for themselves why not use a phrase they hate – daesh?

Daesh is an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, which means Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Militants do not like this word, because it’s similar to Arabic word Daes – which refers to ‘one who crushes something underfoot’.

It also resembles the word Dahes, which translates to ‘one who sows discord’.

It is seen as a refusal to see their beliefs as a legitimate Islamic practice, which of course it isn’t. I haven’t studied the Quran but from what I do know it teaches peace and love. Every religion has their own brand of fanatics that twist the scripture to suit their needs and this is all they are.

I can’t do much to fight terrorism but I can offer love and support to fellow humans and refer to these brainwashed individuals in a way that they despise.

Image Credit: BuzzFeedNews

Year 1 as a Mature Occupational Therapy Student

Once again I’m in the position of completing my first year at university, but this time it’s different; I’m older and possibly wiser (although I wouldn’t bank on that) and I absolutely adore the subject I’m studying. If I haven’t mentioned it before I’m at university to become an Occupational Therapist. These wonderful human beings focus on any issues or concerns that individuals have in completing ‘normal’ day to day activities (mental and physical) and work with them, using activities they find interesting and engaging, to enable and maintain a good quality of life. It is by far the most interesting and rewarding subject I’ve ever come across – light years from my previous digital marketing job.

However, because of said job (which I enjoyed in it’s own way I suppose) I have found the pace of student life to be extremely slow. I’m used to having to having to juggle 2 or 3 projects simultaneously as well as attending to daily updates, and even though I’ve learned to relax into the new routine I still feel like I should be doing more. The feeling disappears entirely when I am on placement though, just being around OTs and putting the skills learned into practice is an amazing feeling. Plus the fact there’s always something to do to help clients, even if it’s just engaging them in conversation and finding out more about their life and interests. I’ve had two placements this year – one in a neurological rehabilitation unit and one in a functional mental health assessment unit. Both were completely different but created the same excitement and feeling of accomplishment. I didn’t want to leave either of them so surely that’s a sign that I may have finally found the right career!

The assessment side of being a student hasn’t really phased me. I enjoy writing (why else would I have a blog?!) I completed a Journalism degree and I was used to writing proposals and reports as part of my job. The referencing took a few goes to get my head around especially as YSJ have their own style. I still get it wrong from time to time but I think that’s more the styling – this should be a comma not a full stop etc. – rather than the actual layout. I’ve found all my essays have just reinforced my learning and asked me to sum up what iv’e learned over the semester – the only one I found awkward was a video assignment in which we had to show professional behaviour. Not particularly difficult but as someone that hates being the centre of attention my performance was definitely stilted.

I didn’t end up joining any clubs (with the exception of the OT society and I don’t believe I actually went to any of their meetings) because my mental health kept getting in the way and I would end up having panic attacks as I went to leave. Not overly clever really but just the way it was. I doubt I’ll join any next year either to be honest, although I will be joining SW5 again where we get to join in social sports for just a £5 for the year. Easy to dip in and out and keep fit without having to compete or commit to something weekly. Obviously I made some fabulous friends on my course and met some incredible professionals too. I’m told that next year will be a big step up in terms of workload and pace which I’m looking forward to and until we get access to our modules at the end of June I’m planning on spending as much time as I can relaxing and enjoying the sun in my back yard.