A day out at parliament

I was definitely in the right place at the right time last week. On 4th October I went to an Action Portsmouth networking event and met Stephen Morgan MP . I had just introduced myself and From the Harp and spoken about the benefits of the arts in health when I highlighted that there was a forthcoming arts in health debate  in parliament on 11th October. Stephen invited me to attend the debate with him. It wasn’t on my bucket list but it should have been:

“Attend debate in parliament with my local MP on a subject I’m passionate about”

What were the chances?

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The All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Report came out in July.  It is a great report and well worth a read (the online version has podcasts and videos).

My first thought was how fantastic to have a report highlighting evidence and statistics in my area of work, while making the arts in health more prominent.

Secondly, what a shame that only one occupational therapist was involved in the advisory groups. After all, occupational therapists have been practicing arts in health for over 100 years. Yet occupational therapy only has two mentions in the report.  Find out more about occupational therapy.

The debate was a follow up to the report and took place in a room next to Westminster Hall.  Westminster Hall is pretty awesome, you may remember seeing it when the Queen Mother was lying in state in 2002 or when Nelson Manela deliverd a speech there in 2003.  It’s so huge, has a fantastic medieval hammer beam roof, and has been a significant backdrop throughout British history.  It’s well worth a visit. Stick it on your bucket list.

Stephen showed me around the public areas of Parliament, and told me some of the history. Did you know that MPs all have a place to hang a sword by their locker?! He explained some of the procedures before having to dash off for a vote. Again, he had been voting all afternoon.

 

The debate was running late as MPs came and went to fulfil their voting duties.

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Ed Vaizey, the member of parliament who called the debate, opened it up by outlining the benefits of arts in health. Ed gave examples from the  APPG report on the arts in health. Medication, length of stay in hospital, agitation, loneliness and mental health all reduced, and he had examples and stats to back this up.

My ears pricked up when he gave harp therapy a shout out!  This is great for harp therapy as it is relatively new in the UK, and not widely known or talked about.

He said that the arts can change the morphology of the brain and I wondered if he got this from Gaynor Sadlo’s (retired professor of occupational science on the occupational therapy courses at Brighton University)  Facebook comment on the debate event . If you haven’t read it, have a read, she talks about the necessity for the brain to be busy to distract from engaging in internal negative self talk.

Ed gave lots of examples including stats and research about arts in health, but the key message was the need to expand the reach and to align with public health for health prevention. The arts have a positive effect on all ages and client groups so should be prominent in the public health arena. There also needs to be equality in access to all of the arts.

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Arts are cost effective and also have a positive effect on staff often doing jobs that are wearing on an emotional, spiritual, mental and physical level. Arts funding would be well spent for clients and staff.

It was quickly pointed out that  Philip Dunne Health Minister was not present, although John Glen Minister for Arts was. Everybody was in agreement that it was a debate the Minister of Health needed to be involved in.

I think all the back benchers in attendance wanted to add to the debate and they were each given a 3 minute limit. Time keeping was very strict, and the one hour debate finished bang on time (18.42:02). Not like your average meeting…..

The best one liner: human flourishing is what’s needed, there’s more to life than GDP. Agreed: there’s harps

The back benchers continued to cite the benefits of arts in health from their constituencies. All ages, all client groups, all settings. Nobody present doubted the benefits.

So if this is the case why can’t the medical model incorporate the arts? It appears to be a no brainer.  We need a culture change in government for the arts and health agendas to merge as one.  Social prescribing needs to be available nationwide and not through the current postcode lottery.  Clinical Commissioning Groups and local arts providers need to be known to each other in order to provide social prescribing to the communities that they both serve.

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We need to progress from the medical model and we need to incorporate the arts in training for medical staff. I believe occupational therapists may be the only allied health professionals that are taught about the arts.

On my  Health through Occupation MSc at the University of Brighton  I had classes in pottery, and various arts and crafts. We also had sessions on incorporating meaningful creative and imaginative activities in our treatment plans.

Occupational therapists are perfect to take this forward, maybe I’ll let Philip Dunne know, you could too:

Email: philip.dunne.mp@parliament.uk

Or tweet:

@dunne4ludlow

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On my way out I met up with Jo White from Rhythmix , in Brighton, who create music programmes to help vulnerable people find their voice.  We were discussing the report in Westminster Hall when Ed Vaizey  came out of the debate, we both agreed we should introduce ourselves and get a piccie.  Thanks Ed.

Jo’s take away from the debate was the arts are “Not the icing of the cake but the essence of the cake”.

If you agree please get involved to try and gain more prominence for the arts in health.

You can let Ed Vaizey know what you think. He welcomed the comments he had received by email and on Facebook before the debate:

vaizeye@parliament.uk

Twitter: @edvaizey

Facebook: facebook.com/edvaizeym…

 

Why we need to talk about occupational science as well as occupational therapy

This is a repost, first posted in May 2017 at Be a Happy Mom

Occupational therapy celebrates 100 years in the USA this year, and 100 years in the UK in 2019.  I’m from the UK and look forward to learning more about the history of occupational therapy in my country and celebrating all we’ve achieved and our vision for the future.  I urge you to find out your country’s occupational therapy history and vision for the future, promote this and celebrate! Even if occupational therapy is fairly new in your country, your country will have an interesting occupational therapy history.

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Earlier this year my bog What is occupational therapy? went viral with nearly 40,000 views and over 20,000 Facebook shares I found myself at the forefront of promoting occupational therapy.  This is not something I had set out to do, but having been catapulted into that position I tried to circulate the post more because occupational therapists and others around the world seemed to relate to my explanations of occupational therapy.

Ours is the only profession that promotes meaningful engagement in every day activities, and I believe it is vital that we retain that identity and can articulate why we are the best profession to do that.  In the UK, promotion of occupational therapy largely focuses on our role within the National Health Service (NHS). Essentially, this amounts to attempting to reduce NHS costs by either keeping people out of hospital, or facilitating speedier discharges from hospital. In any case the promotion of our role appears to be mainly concerned with saving the National Health Service (NHS) money and keeping people out of hospital.

But, I believe, we have a far more profound role in preventative health and supporting people to live well.  As occupational therapists we know that our occupations keep us well, give us meaning in life, and motivate us to get up in the morning.  Science backs this up. Further, neuroscience research now suggests that occupation has the power to distract us from pain and anxiety.

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But other professionals seem to be making claims about the positive effect of occupations like gardening, singing and art and crafts etc.  When these things are shared on social media there is often a comment added along the lines of ‘great, but I wish it had been an occupational therapist that did it’.  In the media others appear to be writing and taking credit for the work that occupational therapists practice day to day.  For example

Dr Tamlin Connor  a psychologist and lead study author for research printed in the Journal of Positive Psychology into the effect on well being after participating in arts and crafts states:

“Engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.

“Overall, these findings support the emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.”

We know this: it is our bread and butter.  But we need to make sure other people know.

We all know occupational therapy is hard to explain as it is so broad and varied, but we owe our colleagues around the world and the colleagues coming after us to do this. Lets make it easy for ourselves – we just have to explain our role, not all the possibilities of positions and work places for occupational therapy, lets keep it simple for us and our audience.  As an occupational therapist I question: 1) what’s the difficulty? 2) why is it a difficulty? 3) how can life be made better? 4) what can we do about it?

Can you base your explanation around this?

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We need to start being confident explaining occupational science too.  I feel it’s an historical problem for us that occupational therapy came first and then the science: occupational science came much later.  We’re playing catch up, we’re only 100 years old (in USA) and we knew we were on to something before we had the science and the evidence base. Medics took over 2500 years to get their evidence base together. Occupational science was named in 1989.  As an analogy, if evidence for medicine has been around for one hour, occupational science has been here for 30 seconds.

For every person that doesn’t know what occupational therapy is there are probably many more who have never heard of occupational science.  It’s new and it’s exciting, so lets be loud and proud about explaining the value of occupational therapy and it’s underpinning in occupational science.  We have the evidence, there is much more to us and our profession than ‘feeling good when we do a hobby’.

If other professionals don’t know what we do then our holistic and creative practice and professional integrity is at stake.  The more other professionals understand what we do the more likely we are to get more referrals, get more funding and prevent other professionals encroaching on our work.

So I urge you to get confident explaining your understanding of occupational science and your role as an occupational therapist so we can promote the profession and protect are uniqueness.

Go and add to our history: tell somebody today what you do and the science behind it.

 

 

 

Why you should go to a gong bath

What is a gong bath? During a gong bath you are surrounded and immersed in sounds from gongs, singing bowls, conch shell trumpets, shruti box, voice, crystal bowls, rattles rainstick and many other soothing complementary instruments.

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It’s best to bring a yoga / camping mat, blanket and pillow so that you can lie down and make yourself comfortable. You are then immersed in the sounds and vibrations from the gongs and the other sound healing instruments.  The gong is wonderful for creating harmony and balance in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves.  The sounds interact with our subconscious, quietening our mind and leading us into an altered stand of consciousness.  Towards the end of the gong bath more rhythmic instruments are used to help you to get grounded before going home.

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There is no water or bath involved in a gong bath. The idea is that you let the sounds wash over you (you are bathed in sound) and by observing and focusing on these sounds, you become more present with the moment, and in turn your mind quietens.

Victoria Dawson Hoff wrote about her experience of a sound bath for Elle “It had been a stressful couple of weeks, and I imagined beforehand that I would struggle with pushing the negative thoughts out of my head.  Instead, I was amazed to find that my thoughts drifted to things that I hadn’t recalled in ages—good things. Random scenes from my childhood; the song lyrics I wrote when I was 18 and thought that I wanted to be a musician. I’ve read that memory recall is one of the first signs that meditation is “working” (for lack of a better word); it was obvious that my mind needed that break from the hustle of everyday life to reflect on these random but wonderful moments. After some time, these memories drifted away too, and I just observed the sounds.”

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The gong bath is a form of sound therapy that goes back thousands of years.  The sound of the gong helps the body and brain to relax by going into Delta and Theta brain wave states.  Delta brain waves are experienced in a deep dreamless sleep and in very deep meditation.  Theta brain waves occur when we are dreaming: vivid imagery, intuition and information beyond normal consciousness awareness.  These brain waves are know to support relaxation, creativity and natural healing.

Our brain waves change according to what we are doing and feeling.  When we’re busy, thinking and alert our brain waves are Gamma and Beta.  As we all spend so much time on our phones and tablets we are always in a state of alert, we’re waiting for incoming messages from a variety of platforms.  It’s hard to shut off from the virtual world and be present in the here and now.

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We need to invest in time to relax and put the effort into making this happen.  A gong bath is an ideal opportunity to put your screen down for an hour, get into your body and brain in the present moment, relax and just be.

This type of relaxation can activate the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve seems to be getting a lot of good press lately.  It is the longest nerve in the body: it starts in the brain and passes through the digestive system, liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and lungs.  So the heart, guts and brain all communicate via this nerve, which is why we feel emotion in our stomach.  It plays a large part in the parasympathetic nervous system which is the ‘rest and digest’ system.   The sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ system, and puts us in states of alertness and anxiety.  When we are relaxing, our natural healing and repair systems work in conjunction with the parasympathetic nervous system. So, by activating the vagus nerve at a gong bath you can have a positive influence on your own immune system, health and wellbeing. Therefore, the role of the brain on the body can have a profound effect.

Gong baths are becoming more popular and mainstream. The Evening Standard recently featured a video of a gong bath including attendees experiences, which ranged from deep meditation to a great nights sleep. You can also read about gong baths in the Daily Mail and the gong in the Financial Times

From the Harp are now providing regular gong baths in Portsmouth and Southsea, why don’t you come along and try one?

Please check our Events Page page and From the Harp’s Facebook Page page for our gong bath events.  Booking is advisable.

The therapy harp and the harp circle

My clients often expect me to turn up with a large harp, the sort of harp you see in an orchestra, they are often wondering how I’m going to get it in the building, and they are surprised when I arrive with my small therapy harps.  Many people have not seen this type of harp before.

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Therapy harps are very different to the orchestral harp.  The concert harps have seven pedals around the bottom that are used to change the key so players need very good hand and foot co-ordination.  It means they have more scope to play tunes in different keys, but they’re not practical for my type of work.

The therapy harp has been around since the 1970s, and is basically a small harp, and can be called a small harp or a lap harp or a therapy harp, it’s basically the same thing.  Some of them have levers at the top which enables the player to change the key.

The therapy harp is light weight and can be worn with a strap which enables the harp to be played while walking around, which is perfect for bringing music to people in a large lounge especially if they may have visual or hearing impairments.

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A colleague in the therapeutic harp community from America plays using a strap and walks around hospital corridors allowing the live harp music to float into many rooms and nursing stations, bringing the music to more people.  The music changes the atmosphere and can bring a bit of release to patients and loved ones dealing with hospital admission and treatment.

Such light weight harps can be played in bed, in wheelchairs and on the floor, so they are really accessible and the way of playing can be adapted to meet the clients physical abilities.  Playing the harp on the floor works really well with young children, and playing in bed is great for anyone that is unable to get out of bed.

These harps are ideal for harp circles too, where a group of people create music together.  I have a choice of straps and knee sticks to stabilise the harp, so players in my harp circles can choose how they would like to position the harp in the way that is most comfortable for them.

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The harp rests on the shoulder and is either supported by the strap of the knee stick, it’s light and allows the player to easily reach all the notes on the harp.

Harp circles are inclusive, they enable participants to be able to do one little part and be part of a whole group making music.  They are uplifting, enjoyable and accessible allowing everyone to take part in some way regardless of challenges or ability.

Harp playing can relax, energise and sooth and can contribute to healing for the youngest of children to the oldest of adults.  Music releases emotional pain, increases interaction, builds self esteem, improves short term memory and attention span, and relieves stress.

Harp circles allow people to enjoy making music, there is no right or wrong way, and we are all musical, there is no wrong note.  Harp circles can incorporate different goals, somebody who has just had a stroke and is able to get their hand to the harp and play a note has achieved.  Somebody who has a brain injury and is able to concentrate and take part in the group is successful.

Everybody has different goals and outcomes, but everybody plays a little bit and we create a whole tune together.

Please get in touch to discuss your clients’ requirements.

 

 

Going viral – the dark side of occupation

My second blog post What is occupational therapy? has been viewed nearly 40,000 times, and shared on Facebook about 20,000 times.  This caught me completely unaware and still continues to amaze me because there are so many blogs out there waiting to be read.

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This website shows live internet activity stats, as I write this 2,963,172 blog posts have been written today and it’s nearly 3pm.  You can see the number of internet users, the number of tweets sent, google searches and the number of Facebook users.  It’s mind boggling!  We really are spending a lot of time doing online occupations.

Our occupations are pretty much always seen as positive and good for health and well being, but ‘The Dark Side of Occupation’ is a concept created and being developed by Dr Rebecca Twinley.  Find out more here.  There are occupations that can be considered not so good for you for various reasons, graffiti for example is a crime, and drinking and drug taking in excess are bad for health.  My experience of going viral lead me to consider the benefits and difficulties of doing so, and I started to reflect on the downside of going viral as the dark side of occupation.

So when my blog went viral I was pretty much ecstatic, lots and lots of people were reading my blog post, which was only my second post and had sat alone and unread for about three weeks.  It made me feel elated, people liked what I had written, people related to how I had described occupational therapy.  Somebody at New Zealand OT Insight magazine asked me if they could publish it.  Shoshanah Shear asked me to guest blog, and Michael Iwama of the Kawa Model liked it too.  Occupational therapists from all over the world were contacting me, and others who weren’t related to the profession.  Suddenly I was a somebody in occupational therapy, I was contributing, commenting and collaborating with the global occupational therapy community.

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Fantastic?  Well this is where the dark side comes in.  As somebody living with and beyond cancer I need to be reducing stress in my life.  I need to be investing time and effort in sleeping well and relaxing.  I need a work life balance and I need to prioritise things that keep me well, like exercise, cooking healthy meals, mindfulness and my hobbies.  All these things enable my parasympathetic nervous system to do it’s thing and heal and repair my body, and allow my killer cells to go after cancer cells in my body.

I was new to posting on social media, and wasn’t quite ready for the world to know about my cancer diagnosis.  (Yes I know I had written about having cancer, but it took a while to click the publish button, my finger hovered over it for some time before I published and I never expected so many people to read it!).  I also wasn’t ready to do so much public commenting, I was just building up gently to having an online presence.

So going viral wasn’t always a positive and productive experience for me.  First I had to stress out about if I had actually gone viral or not.  What figure equaled viral status?  It seems there is no number, if very few people were reading a blog and then thousands were that constituted going viral.

Then I had people contacting me on all manner of platforms: email, messenger, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog comments, I had to manage this daily and keep track of it all and reply to people.  This was time consuming, and difficult to manage.  It wasn’t productive as I’m in the process of setting up a little local business, and correspondence from all over the world wasn’t going to make me any money!  Yet the compelling intrinsic motivation to correspond and use this platform to try and promote occupational therapy further was driving me.  This drive dominated over any of the activities and routines I needed to do to keep myself well, and obtain local business to make a living.

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I wasn’t sleeping, watching my blog stats go up became an obsession.  I just wasn’t present, and I was being mindless, not mindful, I was stuck in the virtual world. On the busiest day one person was viewing my blog every ten seconds.  I kept checking the stats, staring at my screen, it was like watching the figures go up on a really popular government petition.  As people in the UK started to go offline and to sleep, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders would come online.  So I’d go on checking my stats late into the night and throughout the night if I woke up.  This practice did not promote sleep, and really upset my sleep pattern, which is not good for my immune system.

Going viral was a buzz, I cannot say it wasn’t, but it did not lead to good health and well being, so my experience of going viral was definitely an insight for me to the dark side of occupation.

Although we all put things out there wanting them to be seen, ‘liked’, shared and read nothing can really prepare us for when they become popular, take off and cannot be reined in.

But don’t worry, carry on reading this and sharing it, I’m prepared now.  Going viral again cannot compare to the soaring feeling and obsession of it happening the first time.

 

Cancer and the art of relaxation with sound

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During my cancer diagnosis and treatment it became apparent how important relaxing was and that this was as important to recovery as sleep, exercise and good nutrition. I thought maybe people going through this scary and uncertain time would benefit from being able to take part in harp circles. Harp circles allow groups to play and create music together without having to express anything with words.  There is not much creativity or soothing sounds in cancer treatment so a harp circle would fill this gap nicely.   I also thought that sound could promote relaxation, and be a medium to put people in a relaxed and restful state.

As an occupational therapist I believe that activities such as sleeping and relaxing are occupations that we need to invest time and energy in.  If I don’t have a good night’s sleep my next day is not going to go as planned or probably be very productive.  I’ll probably talk myself out of doing any exercise as I’m ‘too tired’ or because ‘I need to conserve my energy’.  I will probably have a slump in the afternoon and struggle to focus on my tasks and be guided by my mind and body to take a nap.

As somebody who used to prioritise chores over relaxation I know how difficult it can be to devote time to essentially switching off and doing nothing.  There’s a pile of washing up, and ironing, there’s a really long shopping list waiting and don’t mention what needs doing in the garden……

Relaxation is so important to heal and repair, and allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and relax the body and give us some respite.  Nowadays we seem to be on constant alert, always ready to respond, we always have incoming ‘stuff’ to deal with.  The post, the landline, fax (anybody still have one of these?) mobile phone, email, text messages, and goodness knows how many apps we can receive messages or updates from.

I’m currently training as a sound therapist so I can offer people sound baths and gong baths.  People come along for about an hour bringing with them a mat, pillow and blanket so they can create a nest of comfort, lie down and ‘bathe’ in the sounds.  I play a relaxing score on gongs, and bowls, crystal bowls and some percussion.  During this time people are able to relax, the parasympathetic nervous system will be in a rested state so enable us to rest, relax and repair.  I’ve found the training very beneficial, it’s helped me to slow down,enjoy creating the sounds and be mindful while I do it and playing the gong, and the various bowls is a relaxing occupation.

So I plan to invite you soon to come along, and escape from your technology for an hour and invest some time and effort into the forgotten occupation of relaxation.

More about gongs and sound baths soon, in the meantime if you curious please check out this article in the Huffington Post about why every stressed out person should try a bit of gong.

 

 

Music really is powerful stuff

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Music is all around us and a part of daily life, whether we choose to listen to it or come across it playing in shops or restaurants that we visit. Prehistoric humans had music in their lives despite it not being essential for survival like hunting and shelter. Old bone flutes and many cave paintings of instruments from prehistoric times have been found around the world.

Occupational therapy is all about the art and science of living, what we do makes us who we are and music has a lot of meaning to us. We can self regulate by using music so if we need to do household chores we may put on something fast and upbeat, if we want to relax or go to sleep we may play something soothing and slow.

Music is also used to distract ourselves, for example when you are kept on hold on the phone or when waiting in a surgery there is often background music playing.

Music can also serve as company for us, at work, at home and in the car. It gives us an identity through our record collections and our spotify feed. It often helps to bring memories back or enables us to communicate emotions.

It is also an entertainment and is part of every celebration.  The presence of music in our lives shows how important it is and how different meaning is incorporated through music.

Learning to play an instrument strengthens the synapses between the brain cells which has a positive impact on our sensory and perceptual systems, cognition, gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination and learning memory.  All these benefits when we can be having fun, and enjoying ourselves when we are playing our instruments!

I am doing a sound therapy course and have had to buy more instruments to complete the course.  Purchasing instruments as been great therapy, before the sound therapy even starts!  As I sit typing I am surrounded by gongs, crystal bowls, a range of precision, the harps of course, nobody is ever far away from a harp in this house, and the old Joanna – cockney rhyming slang for piano.

As an occupational therapist I am approaching sound therapy from a therapeutic activity perspective.  As part of my course I have had to learn to play these new instruments and engage my senses with them.  Some of the sounds are ethereal.  Hearing them for the first time is an incredible experience, and not one that the mind or body first knows how to process as there is no previous experience of it to go on.  That’s my experience of it anyway, and what a fantastic experience, the older I get the harder it seems to be able to experience things for the first time.  I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground so that does limit my choices, no bungee jumping for me thank you.

I find playing the instruments is energising, and having them next to my desk is the perfect antidote for any mid morning or afternoon slump and serves me better than any coffee would.

Making music is powerful stuff, and energising activity, why isn’t if on prescription?