Occupational therapy and psychosomatics

07. October 2020

Most psychosomatic clinics offer occupational therapy for their patients. But what exactly it is, is unclear to many sufferers before their first occupational therapy session. This article provides insight into the field of occupational therapy and shows why occupational therapy support can positively influence the course of mental illness.

The principles of occupational therapy

The name occupational therapy or ergotherapy comes from the Greek word “ergo,” which means work, labor or deed. Accordingly, occupational therapy is always process- and action-oriented. Patients are supported in being able to perform everyday actions and occupational activities (again) and to strengthen the skills necessary for this. Occupational therapy is offered to people of all ages who have problems planning and implementing actions. Reasons for occupational therapy can include physical and mental illnesses, disabilities, learning disabilities, accidents or developmental delays.

Ergotherapy in many contexts
Depending on the age and patient group, the therapeutic focus of occupational therapy is very different. For children, the therapy plan often includes fine and hand motor skills, but also dexterity, sensory perception, dealing with rules, learning strategies or structuring actions. Older patients and those in need of care learn mobilization techniques and tricks in occupational therapy that make everyday life easier.

After accidents and injuries that impair hand dexterity, for example, occupational therapy restores fine motor skills. Occupational therapy for mental illnesses is a special case. Here, the therapy program is especially tailored to the target group.

Ergotherapy in psychosomatic medicine

In a psychological crisis, those affected are often incapable of action and completely trapped in their world of thoughts. Many suffer from lack of drive, decision-making difficulties, lack of stamina or else inner restlessness and hecticness. Occupational therapy treatment of mental illness has the overall goal of improving basic skills and alleviating mental symptoms. The following skills and competencies are trained in occupational therapy:

Executive functions (i.e., functions that people need Further competencies to perform actions of any kind)

  • Planning
  • Cognition
  • Concentration
  • Decision-making
  • Perseverance
  • Attention/Focus
  • Obeying rules

Other competencies

  • Composure
  • Critical faculties
  • Proud
  • Self-worth
  • Self-efficacy
  • Courage
  • Action orientation
  • Rest and relaxation

To ensure the best possible training of the above skills, occupational therapy/ ergotherapy is always individually tailored to the needs of the patient. In a personal initial interview, strengths and weaknesses are discussed and therapy goals are set.

Types of work in occupational therapy

The fascinating thing about occupational therapy is that the skills to be trained can be practiced in a wide variety of contexts. In most cases, occupational therapists have a wide variety of activities from which patients can choose. In a large arts and crafts room, for example, these options are available:

  • Woodwork
  • Working with soapstone
  • Clay and ceramic modeling
  • Painting/drawing/designing
  • Bookbinding
  • Weaving baskets
  • Making jewelry
  • Pouring candles
  • Cooking and baking

The occupational therapist helps decide on a project, which is then accompanied from start to finish. The patient is thus supported in the decision, planning, implementation and completion and achieves a visible result at the end. The following experience report shows how the patients themselves perceive occupational therapy.

How patients experience occupational therapy – a field report

“Due to a severe depressive episode, I went to a psychosomatic clinic in the spring. On my therapy schedule was the entry occupational therapy several times a week. I didn’t really know what to do with it, but at the initial time in the clinic I was grateful for any offer that could somehow help me out of my crisis. At first I was surprised that occupational therapy was held in a huge work and art room and everywhere fellow patients were concentrated on creative projects.

In the initial consultation with the occupational therapist, I then learned that I was supposed to choose my own project to get out of my constant ruminating and into real action. At first I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t decide and I didn’t really feel like it. I wanted to talk about my problems and roll them over and over again.

What should it help me then to start a tinkering here? After much pondering, I decided to weave a basket and was already completely overwhelmed with the first steps. Very gently, the occupational therapist took me literally by the hand and helped me to get to work.

How long had I not been creative in peace? How long had I not concentrated over a long period of time without the distraction of other To Dos, the cell phone or colleagues create something? In the beginning, I couldn’t really relax and immerse myself in the activity. But it became easier and more “natural” from week to week. Even if I was annoyed many times that it did not turn out quite as beautiful as I had intended, but in the end I was proud to hold my final product in my hands.

Only in hindsight do I understand the goals that the occupational therapist worked on with me: To get out of brooding and into action. To really feel something with my hands. Creating something new. To work in a self-effective way. Letting go of perfectionism. Making decisions. These are skills that had been completely lost to me during the depression. I now understand how effective occupational therapy can be and how healing it is to get back into action after months of brooding.

Patient, LIMES Castle Clinic

Categories: Therapy

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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