Posted: October 26, 2016

October is Occupational Therapy Month, and GRH is pleased to celebrate the dedication of occupational therapists supporting patients throughout our hospital

Larysa Brown knew she wanted to be an occupational therapist since she was 14 years old.

She now works at GRH’s specialized mental health program at the Freeport Campus, helping patients to move back into their day-to-day activities after a hospital stay.

Larysa is very happy empowering patients in specialized mental health to live life to their fullest. She’s also quick to credit her colleagues across health disciplines who work as a team to support patients in the program.

Larysa Brown Portrait
What helps drive occupational therapy in general?

OTs use assessments and interventions to enhance, build, or maintain daily living and work skills and play. We support clients of all ages including people with physical, mental/emotional and cognitive disorders or challenges.

OTs view everything you do to occupy your time in your day-to-day life as an occupation – how you take care of yourself, home-making, community integration, work, school and what you do for fun. We believe that participating in those occupations has a positive impact on your health and well-being, creates structure and organizes your time, brings meaning to one’s life, and that everyone is different so no treatment is going to be the same. It’s so diverse and holistic.

What drew you to be an OT in specialized mental health?

I have always had an interest in what makes people tick. Our minds and bodies are connected and no matter what area of practice you go in, you will be working with and addressing someone’s mental health in some form.

Mental health stigma remains within the community and within any work organization. If I can change at least one person’s view on mental health and demonstrate that it’s not scary or something to be ashamed of, that it is a part of all of us, then I feel our world will be a much more empathetic, joyful, safe and respectful place to live.

What kind of patient needs do you support?

The people I typically work with are those who live with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, depression and anxiety. They can also struggle with addictions and other cognitive challenges that make it difficult for them to live, work and be part of society, including their families.

I do a lot of assessments about a person’s ability to live on their own, supporting psychiatrists understanding of a person’s financial capacity, helping a person find meaning and a reason to get up in the morning and finding a way to have a routine to keep them going through the day.

Each person has a different recovery time and there is always a chance of relapse. There is no one prescription that works for any given individual. Treatment can be complex and the hope is to prevent another hospitalization so they can continue to keep living their life.

What’s different about this environment compared to others in which you’ve worked?

I worked in the community on an assertive community treatment team (like a hospital on wheels for those with significant mental health issues) for seven years. That role was to help keep people out of hospital while working with them in their environment and navigating life in real-time. I would go into people’s homes and work with them there and in their community. It’s real life. On occasion I would do assessments.

I now work in an inpatient setting for longer term hospitalizations and do many more assessments of independent living. As I’m seeing people who are at a point in their life where they are struggling the most, I am able to do a lot more support in activation of daily life. 

I’m still fortunate in the ability to do community re-integration so I can go with them into their homes to help them transition back into the community when the time is right. And then I let the community support agencies follow up on recommendations.

Larysa Brown And Michelle Penner
Larysa and therapy assistant Michelle Penner prepare a kitchen exercise for specialized mental health patients
What keeps you energized about your job?

Considering mental health and emergency department work have the highest levels of burnout and compassion fatigue in any profession, you need to find something to keep you going and some way of ensuring you are doing self-care. For me I try to exercise three times a week and I also try to have work-life balance (i.e. do a lot of enjoyable family activities). I also try to use mindfulness and acceptance of my emotions, my interactions with others, and my “doings”.

While at work, what keeps me going are the amazing staff who have a passion for mental health, a good sense of humor, and validation and support for how hard it is to work in this field.

What’s the most rewarding part about working with patients in specialized mental health?

I work off “sparkly moments” for clients. Achieving goals can take a long time in mental health, so having an acceptance and preparedness for that and then celebrating that with the individual you’re working with keeps me going. Because when they’ve finally reached a goal, you know it’s taken a lot of effort to get there.

It’s about instilling a person with hope that they can be a human being, reminding them they have rights for the same, and that someone is there to try and understand their needs. In return I see a person smile when they never have, or get out of bed because they know they’re not alone or have to do it alone, or they’re given a chance to get a job or live on their own because of skills building or just needed some modifications to make it work. 

Learn more about GRH's mental health and addictions program

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