Over the course of my internship in acute care mental health, I had the opportunity to work with a large variety of people. One of my favourite populations to work with were people with eating disorders. I spent every Wednesday with them in the first month, alternating between 1 hour sessions and 3 hour sessions. My time with them increased when I started checking in with them on Fridays and Mondays. In February, I started giving them weekend recreation therapy on Fridays, where they identified a need and worked toward resolving that need through independent leisure involvement. On Mondays, I would check in to see how it went, what they learned, what was difficult etc. For the 1 hour sessions, I created various activities that would stimulate group conversations and healing-based forward thinking such as this favourite things about me worksheet and this short story exercise. For the 3 hour sessions, we would often do community outings to places like the Boardroom Cafe and the Discovery Centre. For one 3 hour session, we went to a coffee shop and did an emotion focused therapeutic collage activity to work on emotion identification. Overall, a lot of my time with the patients with eating disorders was spent initiating discussions about how leisure fits into both illness, recovery, and life in general. I have watched patients make huge progress in their leisure. I have seen patients go from not being able to draw without being triggered and crying, to being able to draw without an eraser or ruler (and keeping the result!), and being unsure of what they liked to do beyond having disordered thoughts and behaviours, to coping with crocheting, journalling, story writing, painting and healthy exercise. The road to recovery for these patients is a very long one, but I learned the importance of patience, empathy, and understanding. Additionally, changing my program plans and meeting the patients where they were at was the key to building successful therapeutic relationships with them and really improving their leisure lifestyles.
Working with these patients was the best way to get to know them, but research was important too. For my special service project, I created an assessment for the patients with eating disorders. Previously, we were using the same assessment for them as for the patients with an acute onset of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. The differences between the aforementioned mental illnesses and eating disorders is vast, so we decided that they needed a specific one. I did some research to base the assessment off of and created an assessment guide. You can see the guide here, the assessment here, and the rationale and references here. Fortunately, the three inpatients at the time were willing to be assessed with it and give me feedback after. They said that the questions were non-intrusive, got them thinking about the past in a healthy way, and were relevant for me to get to know them. The assessment was also the beginning of our relationship, and was a way to quickly build rapport. One patient said that I could ask her whatever I wanted if I thought that the answer to that question would help me to help her, so that is the general rule I followed while revising the assessment. A focus group with outpatients is currently underway to get more feedback about the assessment. It is very important to me that I ensure it will get RT’s the information they need about the patients to create a successful relationship and treatment plan with them.
Undergraduate Honours Research
During the third year of my degree at Dal, I took advantage of the honours program. I chose a faculty supervisor, picked a topic of interest, and started researching with the guidance of a few amazing professors. I chose to study the effects of canine companionship on the wellbeing of older adults living alone. I became interested in this topic because I spent a lot of time in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax. Walking through the popular oceanside off leash park almost daily with my best friend and her dogs exposed me to the dog human bond. I wondered how this strong bond could increase people’s wellness, and chose older adults to focus on. You can see a Summary of Research here! I worked with the incredible non-profit organization ElderDog Canada to recruit participants (and their dogs). ElderDog Canada assists older adults to live in their homes with their canine companions for longer, improving the life of both dog and human for years. Additionally, the organization removes the worry for dog owners of what will happen to the dog following their moving to a senior’s home, illness, or death. I hope one day to increase my involvement with the organization because from what I discovered through my research, the dog human bond is a powerful force that gives purpose and unconditional love to those who need it the most.
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Undergraduate Course Highlights
I greatly enjoyed the four courses I took to get the disability management certificate. It was an eye opening set of courses because what I learned was applicable to everyday life. Here, you can see a case study I wrote in the fourth course, Communication and Professional Relationships in Disability Management.
This counselling course was unlike any other I took at Dalhousie. We role played, learned how to talk and listen to people, and attended a 3 hour seminar on Motivational Interviewing (MI). During my internship, I have used what I learned in this class more than any other and I look forward to building on my MI skills for the rest of my career.
In this course, I was able to take part in planning a leisure education focused event. As a class, we decided to call our event “S.M.I.L.E. day” (Students Making an Impact through Leisure Education). My friend and I created a ‘booth’ where students could come and create gender-neutral cards of gratitude for someone in their life they appreciate. We frontloaded the activity by explaining the benefits of appreciation and the importance of inclusivity, then offered them the experience of rephrasing classic Hallmark greeting cards such as this and this, removing gender stereotypes, and creating greeting cards such as this and this! We sent them off with their cards of gratitude and a summary of what we taught them.
Administrative Concepts in Therapeutic Recreation
In this course, I learned how to write grants. We were paired up with a Recreation Therapist from IWK Choices and discovered that they needed money to recreate their outside space. It is currently unusable; overgrown, muddy, and unfriendly. We gathered some information and wrote a Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia grant for under $10,000 requesting enough money to redo the space. You can see a slideshow outlining the content of the grant here.
Youth at Risk
This course was centred around what the term ‘youth at risk’ means, how youth become ‘at risk’, and how to prevent youth becoming ‘at risk’. Within this course, three classmates and I created a program for children with chronic illness. In this hypothetical program, we used Progressive Muscle Relaxation as a program to be implemented at Brigadoon Village. A slideshow detailing our program can be seen here.
This course was extremely helpful, considering a large part of coursework was done in groups. Additionally, collaboration within the profession is a huge aspect of being a Recreation Therapist so this course was important. Learning about Cultural Competency was a highlight of this course.