This week many OT students start their placements. This made me reflect on how much has happened since my role-emerging placement this time last year. Thinking back to what I knew then and what I know now, I was reminded of something that was shared on Facebook a while ago. I can’t seem to get my hands on the article at the moment but watch this space. Basically from what I can remember, it was a letter that was found in a text book in a university library. It was planted in a book that only third year nurses use. The letter was written by a nurse who had just finished university offering advice and support to the third year nurse reader who happened upon it.
This then led me to thinking about a compassion based approach and compassionate letters. I cam across a compassionate approach (or self-compassion, as it is also known) whist studying a counselling skills qualification. I’ve also come across it again when learning about mindfulness. A compassionate approach involves being mindful of how you feel when things aren’t going your way and recognising that everybody has these weaknesses, not just you. This makes you feel a lot kinder and compassionate towards you. The outcome is that you feel more positive about your situation and feel more wellbeing. Hopefully this stops us being hard on ourselves (you know: dwelling on what we should have done better, criticising our work, putting pressure on to be the best) and leads to increased confidence, positive mood and self-esteem (Graham, 2014)
Well, I think we could all do with a bit of that in third year at uni. I think as a student, it’s so easy to be hard on yourself and apply a lot of pressure. You’re continually marked and evaluated and I think this can lead to comparing yourself to others. Certainly in the final year the stress and pressure certainly ramp up where assignments count 75% towards final degree classification, placements become more demanding and not to mention the competition when applying for jobs. With all this to deal with it’s easy to see why final year students need a little bit of TLC.
Therapists use compassionate letter writing to “to help people engage with their problems with a focus on understanding and warmth” (Gilbert,2007). It’s helpful to write yourself a kind letter if you are going through a tough time or you could also do this with your clients. There are links at the bottom of the page if you are interested in knowing more. Anyway dear final year OT student, I have written you a letter to start you off, because as many of you start placements, I think you need someone cheering your corner. I hope you find it helpful.
P.s. If you’re reading this as a student from the University of Salford, imagine I’ve tucked this little letter in ‘Occupational Therapy without Borders’ in the library. You’ll know what I mean.
Dear third year OT student,
Well done for getting this far. It’s not easy getting on an OT course, never mind getting through all those assignments and placements! It has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance and I am proud of you. For mature students; well done on being so brave. You’ve done an amazing thing having the courage to change your life. It’s not easy to make the step, all the sacrifices you’ve had to make to get here. Making a drastic change in your life can really turn your world upside-down but it will also allow you to undertake new experiences, challenges and grow as a person.
In the run up between now and graduating, there may be some dark days ahead. Days where you’re not understanding the assignment you’ve been set, days where you think that you’ll never get a job as an OT. Days where you wonder why you’re doing it at all. I’ve been there dear OT student and I want to tell you that this will pass. One month after graduating, you will have fond memories of university and wish your were still there. Yes it’s hard to believe now, I know. Don’t be in a rush to finish, enjoy the rest of the ride.
I don’t know you- but not long ago I was you. I know what you’re going through but I also know what the other side looks and feels like. Let me share with you some things I’ve learned along the way.
Comparing yourself to others is a quick road to misery. Don’t tell people your grades, don’t ask what theirs are. Accept that there will always be someone who has done better than you and someone who hasn’t performed as well as you. Just as long as it’s good enough for you. The degree classification may seem so important at the time but it becomes a memory very quickly. If you fail an assignment or just scrape through, it may seem like the end of the world now but in a couple of years time, when you’re an OT you won’t care. So what if it took you a little longer? I was in my mid thirties when I quit my career to be an OT. I could beat myself up for not coming to it sooner but what’s the point? The main thing is that I got there (eventually).
Don’t put pressure on yourself to be good straight away. No one expects this of you. When you relax, you’ll come on in leaps and bounds and you’ll enjoy yourself. There’s no point in being the best if you’re not enjoying it.
Try and get a balance. You do need to do some extra curricular stuff to make your job applications look good and enhance your skills learned on the course but don’t take on so much that you can’t do anything justice or that you barely have time for yourself. Downtime is just as important as OT time.
It’s really important to look after yourself. Don’t cheat yourself by sacrificing exercising, enjoying yourself, sleep, eating well and being with friends and family for extra time on your assignments. This really doesn’t work. A bit of space away from the assignment can focus the mind more than blankly staring at a screen for hours. Like in exams or other stressful situations, panic never provides the most productive response. Leave the computer, get a bath, go to the gym, go out with your friends, spend time with your loved ones. Get your mind off OT. Allow your brain to put it on the back burner, it will still be working on it in the background and things will seem clearer when you are ready to focus.
Sometimes on placement you may not feel that anything is going your way. You think of all the things you feel you messed up that day, what you didn’t know or what you could have done better. Focus on the positives. Remember all the nice things that patients say to you or the things that you did that you thought were pretty alright. These could be little things such as a patient saying you were lovely because you took the time to listen, you got through a kitchen assessment by yourself for the first time, or you showed someone how to use a delta frame and they were pleased with their new-found mobility. Of course positive feedback from your educator is important but your voice is just as strong as what other people think of you. If you feel that you’ve done something well on placement. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’re working hard-you deserve it.
Make the most of your personal tutor whether it be for assignments, advice or just offloading. Don’t just see them when you have to, they are a valuable source of support.
There have been hard experiences already, but you’ve coped-you’ve really coped. So you can cope now. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t mean as much to you. You know that you’ll be great in time. I know right now it may seem like it will never happen, but one day you will be an experienced OT and have your own students. All I ask is that you remember this letter and how it felt to be here now and to be compassionate to your OT students. You will get there and so will they.
Lots of love
Compassionate letter writing references and resources