Real-life events, such as birthdays, family occasions and Christmas, throw up so many opportunities to put practice the therapy and rehabilitation work we ask our clients and their support people to do. These events allow us to model what good therapy can be. There are real-time limits, real people, real consequences and real benefits. So it just makes good sense to use these cultural events to help our clients make some great gains. If I’m really honest, it’s good fun too.
Okay. So enough of the reasoning-rant – what did we actually do?
We made Christmas cards. From scratch. With our clients. The project took several weeks and several sessions to complete but as a therapist, it was extremely worthwhile on all levels and for everyone involved. Here are the steps I took.
I went onto Pinterest and looked for ideas for simple handmade Christmas cards. Nothing childish. All the clients I made cards with have limited use or control of their hands, so a complex creation wasn’t going to work. I also needed the artwork to be finished in a single session as a fatigue, attention and time management strategy. And let’s face it, the art-making part was flat out Occupational Therapy (OT)* – not my area!
The card-making therapy session
When it came to the card-making session, I went armed with two artwork options for my clients to make. I did a practice run at home because I was nervous the whole thing wasn’t going to work. This actually provided me with a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ finished artwork to show so it was a good idea. Win:Win.
In the end, the clients all chose the same option: the ripped Christmas tree (which did look rather fabulous).
After the artwork was completed
We took a photo of the artwork for the front cover of the Christmas cards. Then we took a photo of the client holding their artwork. This way it was REALLY clear to people receiving cards, this Christmas card was lovingly made by their special someone.
We worked out a list of people to send the cards to and talked through how and when those people were going to receive their card. For example, would it be handed out on Christmas day or would it be sent in the post and do you have their address?
We worked out how many stamps were required for the cards to be posted. We counted how many cards we needed to have made.
Printing the cards
We went to an online print company to make the cards up. I chose this company according to cost. If time had allowed, this could have been another problem-solving opportunity, but I didn’t have sufficient time to include my clients in this part of the process.
Designing the cards
Using the online print company, each client chose the message they wanted to have on the inside of the card. Together, we googled “Christmas card messages” for suggestions. (Thanks internet!) The clients also made decisions about the layout of their cards. Image here? Text here? How big? What font?
Receiving the cards
Then 10 days later they got their cards! The tangible results of their efforts. Was it well received? Umm YES! It was one of those times it is really, really rewarding to be a therapist. The clients all brimmed with pride when they saw their handiwork. One client, who has difficulty remembering things from day-to-day, IMMEDIATELY recognised the Christmas card as her own work. It was goose-bump material really.
The cards were so gorgeous. I asked one client (and their family) if I could use it as my work Christmas card and sent it to my work network.
Personalising their messages
The clients wrote messages on their cards according to their level of hand control. One simply signed off with his first initial (which he practiced every day from the time we generated the cards online to the day he signed them.) A bit like a rock star really. Single letter and all that.
Did therapy stop there? Pfff. No. We took photos of the PROCESS of making the cards, and the support workers for each client helped to develop a story in Story Creator. All of the clients and their support workers knew how to do this without me facilitating it. The story was then (hopefully) used to support communication with family members and the next shift of support workers.
Therapy areas targeted:
Projects like this one target a whole array of therapy goals and areas. In this case, over various sessions, we were able to tackle:
- Attention and concentration
- Hand therapy
- Elaboration in conversation (with the story created after the fact)
- Memory (using the Story Creator story)
*If you work closely with the OT in your team it would be possible to split the cognitive-communication aspect from the hand therapy and art creation. Or even to do it as a joint session and have the benefit of two clinicians coming at the task from two different disciple viewpoints. For my clients participating in this activity, they were not seen jointly due to mindfulness of funding constraints. Our Occupational Therapist was completely swamped in equipment prescription and home modifications. After a brief discussion of goals and a few tips, I got the go-ahead to be an O.T. assistant for the artwork making.