The 3-Point Turn – OT Practice and Navigating COVID Changes  

As summer fades and the seasons change, it’s an ideal time to grab that pumpkin spiced latte and take a second to look back and reflect.  The spring and summer of 2022 have marked a new transition in the COVID-19 landscape.  With the lifting of restrictions and the opening of community spaces, many people, including our clients, have struggled to navigate these changes.  Many of us have struggled with the paradoxical feeling of liberation and freedom from our house-bound isolation days, with feelings of anxiety and fears about large gatherings that are bigger than our 5-person “bubble” and seeing people in person.

Here we go again!  But perhaps this is more of a “3-point turn” rather than a “pivot”!  This time around Occupational Therapy (OT) sessions have shifted from virtual visits and parking lot check ins to supporting clients to resume in-person sessions and to rebuild comfort in the community.  During the past several months, this has included having discussions about COVID precautions, teaching skills to navigate anxiety in community spaces, supporting clients to re-engage in “in-person” rehabilitation appointments and building new routines that now include more community involvement.

In OT sessions, many clients have expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted them and to process their emotions related to this.  Practical support has been provided to help clients to assess their own risk and to create their own community safety plan.  This has included discussion about masking options, but also consideration of other factors such as modes of transportation, locations visited and ideal times of day in which clients feel safe and comfortable.  This has been of particular importance to our clients who have been struggling with feeling overwhelmed in the sudden shift from being mostly house-bound to being required/needing to be in the community for more prolonged periods of time. Many of our OTs have come together with their clients in sessions to make safety plans and to review strategies that have reduced barriers to community engagement and assisted clients to feel increasingly comfortable and confident with re-engaging in the community.

Some clients have struggled with anxiety symptoms that require further OT support.  OTs practicing psychotherapy have supported clients to manage symptoms of anxiety that may have been exacerbated during this COVID transition.  OT sessions have focused on teaching functional stress management skills including breathing training, grounding skills and mindfulness practices.  Sessions are experiential and OTs and clients have been practicing skills together to “test drive” strategies and to fine tune their coping skills “toolbox.”  We recognize that a global pandemic can impact our thought patterns and view of the world – and how could it not?  OTs have been supporting clients using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to explore thoughts, examine and recognize unhelpful thinking patterns, and to use restructuring techniques or diffusion skills to help balance their thinking, reduce the intensity of their anxiety and improve their ability to function. 

A primary area of OT support has been to aid clients to re-engage in the community.  Our clients’ daily structure, routines and access to rehabilitation have been significantly impacted by initial COVID restrictions.  With restrictions lifted, many of our clients have benefited from support to re-visit and adapt their routines that now include increased community involvement.  OTs have helped clients shift back to in-person treatment with their healthcare teams, encouraged community re-integration for instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., errands, groceries), and explored social and leisure pursuits.  With COVID safety plans in place and a tool kit to manage anxiety that may arise, OTs have been taking sessions on the road with clients.  We are engaging in side-by-side support to help clients reintegrate into the community using the plans and tools that work for them.  You may have seen us attending joint in-person sessions with healthcare providers, practicing skills to manage anxiety while we shop at the grocery store, or support a client to increase their comfort and social or recreational activities by visiting a coffee shop, attending a Yoga class, or navigating a university campus.  These have provided rich opportunities to practice anxiety management skills with our clients in the places they need to or want to go.  Side-by-side support has helped our clients improve their confidence and comfort in the community and enhances their ability to engage in rehabilitation and recovery.      

Of course, COVID uncertainty continues to be a reality for all of us.  As OTs, we continue to offer support to our clients to build tolerances to this ongoing uncertain global situation and to offer functional, side by side support to continue to navigate these changing times. 

Written by

Vikki Madden is an Occupational Therapist practicing at FunctionAbility Rehabilitation Services LP. FunctionAbility Rehabilitation Services is an award-winning, accredited, multidisciplinary rehabilitation practice that provides expert assessment and treatment services throughout Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia to persons with traumatic and acquired neurological injuries, and severe orthopedic injuries.