Students choose novel volunteering placements to make a difference

News Page 15th April 2019

At the University of Northampton, final year Occupational Therapy students undertaking their practice placement have the option of completing this in a setting where you would not traditionally find an occupational therapist.

The placements last for 12 weeks and the students’ work is entirely self-directed, with support from their placement providers and frequent catch-ups with their peers and fortnightly supervision with an identified OT tutor.

The Press Office met four students to find out where they took their placements, what they did and how they benefitted from this opportunity. University of Northampton OT Practice Placement Facilitator Jenny Devers sums up their achievements.


Jerri O’Callaghan, was placed with the British Red Cross in Milton Keynes: “I worked with a number of asylum seekers from across the world who had a multitude of issues, from complex mental health problems to general confusion at being at being a new country. Some professionals who work in one specific sphere of practice can find it challenging to help, but Occupational Therapy is well-placed to do this because we take a look at much more than one ‘thing’ that impacts on how people live.

“One of the issues for asylum seekers is that they can feel a bit lost and get bored if they aren’t working and have nothing to do. Part of what I did at the Red Cross was to help engage people with community activities. I helped one man get into an art class which is therapeutic in many ways and also helped him to meet new people.

“I gained so much from having the ‘training wheels’ taken off and the feedback I had from people about how I helped really underlines that.”


Darcy Small, was placed with a domestic abuse charity that works with women and children: “People who escape abusive relationships can have little or no self-confidence. If they have been made to feel unattractive, it can be difficult for them to even look at their own reflection.

“I wanted to use creativity, self-exploration and the development of self-worth as a new avenue for the women at the charity and created a self-portraiture group so they could start re-exploring their identity, which would have been incredibly difficult during their former relationship.

“I took in some mirrors and, without any pressure, let them decide if they wanted to use them during the classes. Gradually, they gained the confidence to use them to look at themselves and as the week’s progressed one woman told me she felt proud about who she was and the class had reignited her love of art, something previously forbidden. That in itself says everything to me about the value of occupational therapy.”


Zoe Le Sueur spent her placement at a private, residential care home for older people: “One thing that struck me about the home was how much people had done for them by their carers. I thought, if they were making their own cups of tea themselves a few weeks ago, why this sudden change?! There was a need to educate carers about how to help their loved ones keep hold of their independence as much as possible.

“Sometimes, it’s the small things that add up to really helping an older person during the day and as occupational therapists we are trained to pick up on something like how to properly, comfortably seat someone first thing in the day. I conducted a review of this and created posters to help remind carers how spending just a minute or so more each morning doing this and how best to do it can really make a difference.

“I remember feeling surprised when I started the placement that I knew so much after my two and a bit years studying here and the feedback from the residents was really positive. So much so the home are creating a new post for an occupational therapist there”.


Nicola Sage spent her placement at Aspire, a charity for homeless people in Oxford: “Looking back on my time at Aspire, the only challenge I faced was probably doing too much!

“I get very passionate about safeguarding and when I see people who are at risk I see the need to jump in and act! This led me to taking on some extra work alongside being at Aspire, but a good OT never loses sight of their own self-care and I kept a check on this and was lucky to also be well supported by Aspire and the University’s OT team throughout my placement.

“I worked with many people who have really helped direct my learning, but one person I won’t forget is a woman who had chronic physical and mental health issues. Recommending some new home equipment helped to facilitate her own personal care and, in time, helped her get back to leaving her flat.

“I feel quite proud of the work I did at Aspire as I helped identify support they weren’t aware of, but being there also made me realise that my Aspire colleagues are just as passionate about providing person-centred care as I am.”


Jenny Devers, OT Practice Placement Facilitator: “It has been a delight to see our students confidence grow, listen their stories and see how much they have learned. Seeing their personal passion to help – irrespective of where they had their placement – and watching them blossom is one of the joys of working in occupational therapy education.

“We hear from graduates all the time who don’t hold the title Occupational Therapist but are still using their skills to develop novel and creative ways to help people continue with the ‘occupations’ that define them as individuals. OT might be moving away more from the traditional healthcare setting, but it still serves a very important and much needed role, a trend I have no doubt our students will continue.”


Find out more about Occupational Therapy at University of Northampton, whether through the full-time route or full-time Extended route (here, students study for three years – although academic years are slightly longer – but the route includes less weekly attendance, meaning students with work or family commitments can more easily accommodate academic studies).

Find out more about the University’s Advanced (MSc) degree in Occupational Therapy.

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