The Role of Occupational Therapists in the NHS Forest

Sam Eperson's picture

Welcome to my farewell post as an OT Sustainability Volunteer!  One of my main projects recently has been writing a report looking at the role of occupational therapists within the NHS Forest.  

Hopefully all of you reading this will be aware of the great work being done by NHS Forest, with it’s long-term legacy of connecting people with the natural environment and bringing communities together.  NHS Forest is growing across the country and to date has planted over 57,000 trees.  It also includes Green Gyms, orchards and apple pressing, dementia friendly gardens and green health routes.

What you may not be aware of is that a large number of NHS Forest projects involve occupational therapists! These are classic occupational therapy interventions that we can engage our service users in, for example maintaining a garden and tending to growing vegetables. Through completing an activity analysis, we are able to understand and grade outdoor treatment programmes such as gardening.

The benefits are not only physical to service users, such as improving the cardiovascular system, but they are also psychosocial. These outdoor activities encourage individuals to work together to achieve the same goal, share ideas and develop communication skills. Furthermore, evidence shows that being outside is highly beneficial to your mental well-being, through the release of endorphins and lowering cortisol hormone levels .  To occupational therapists, this knowledge and understanding of engaging individuals in the outdoor space, is extremely valuable for treatment purposes.

Whilst service users are engaged in outside environments, such as the NHS Forest, some are unaware they are naturally focusing on self-development, lifelong learning skills and gaining a sense of self. With support from occupational therapists, they can build upon these skills and are more likely to engage in treatment programmes to support their recovery.

As occupational therapists, we can also help deliver Positive Workplace Wellbeing, through promoting the benefits of accessing green space and the natural environment with our colleagues. You could encourage staff to engage in the natural environment, such as taking 20 minute walks during their lunch break or twilight walks after work. You could even be very creative and look into establishing a Pilates or yoga class outside (with the right permission).

It is important to remember the natural environment can be accessed by everyone, including patients, visitors and staff. Our skills as occupational therapists, allow us to take a holistic approach to include everybody in these beautiful outdoor spaces, and seek the physical, psychological and social benefits.  If you would like to get more involved in the NHS Forest then please contact Sarah.Dandy@sustainablehealthcare.org.uk

And finally, this has been a difficult post for me to write because I feel so sad about stepping down from my role as an OT Sustainability volunteer.  After 18 months of working with the supportive team and contributing to some of the fantastic work that CSH and Occupational Therapy Susnet complete, it was a difficult decision to make and not one that I made lightly.  I have learnt so much about the sustainability issues that we face as a society and how we can all work together to make a difference in making the world a better place.  It is so important that we start living and working in a sustainable way to preserve our resources for future generations.

I have enjoyed having discussions and writing the case studies about occupational therapists who have made a difference within their working environment.  I hope the next volunteer likes this role as much as I have and continues with then work of engaging occupational therapists in NHS Forest, and enjoys developing the report about this that I have started!

I will still be contributing and writing blogs for Occupational Therapy Susnet and continuing with my Instagram account (sustainable_ot).

A big thank you to Ben and the other volunteers for this oppotunity and for your support in making this an enjoyable experience :)

But for now, keep moving, live healthily, look after others and think sustainability!

Farewell for now!

Sam

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