The Art and Science of Everyday Living is an interview series with innovative occupational therapists.
We are shining a spotlight on OT and how you can benefit.
Our next OT is also a coach and an artist who supports people to find balance and manage change, overwhelm and the complexity of modern life.
If you have an invisible health condition and you are experiencing change and overwhelm, you may find pieces of your own story reflected in the words of the occupational therapists interviewed in this series. You may even find a tip or two to help you live your life with more ease, joy and meaning and foster a renewed sense of hope.
As always, please speak with your own health care provider for individualized advice before applying any new strategy. If you need further support and the OT profiled lives in your area, feel free to reach out for more information.
We are glad you are here!
Jen Gash is an Occupational Therapist, Coach and Artist. After starting her working life in Human Resources, Jen trained as an Occupational Therapist in 1994. Her interest in positive psychology and therapeutic relationships led her to train as a coach in 2005. Her passion for creativity led her to specialise in creativity coaching, which echoes her OT roots.
In 2005 she launched “OTCoach” which provides coaching and training to individuals and groups of Occupational Therapists. Within this she has coached and mentored OT’s both newly qualified and those further on their careers, with a particular interest in working with people in new areas of practice. Jen’s “non OT” client work focusses on highly creative people, complex conditions and neuro-diverse people who struggle at work
Coaching bridges the gap between where we are now and where we would like to be and is crucial to enabling, sustainable health behaviour change. Jen is passionate about coaching becoming integral to OT practice, as it is a powerful way to enabling meaningful occupation.
Jen is also director of Discovery Party, which provides coaching parties in schools, homes and businesses.
Jen’s passionate and spot on blog posts about the value of occupational therapy have been a touchstone for me as I step out in different ways in my own career as an OT. Her wisdom will not only resonate with occupational therapists, but anyone who is in the midst of navigating the gap between where they are now and where they would like to be (which sounds like all of us, much of the time). I am delighted to have Jen be a part of this series and share her insights and perspective (and humour!) with us.
Over to you, Jen!
How do you describe your role as an OT to the people/clients that you work with?
People need to wake up in the morning knowing that their day has things in it that they want to do and can do. Things that will give them meaning and purpose and connect them with others. I help them do stuff they want to do in life.
In your practice, what are some common struggles or symptoms that you support people to adapt to, manage, or overcome?
These days I work with a lot of occupational therapists who are struggling with occupational challenges themselves which range from difficulties at work, personal difficulties or a desire for a different way of working.
Outside of that I usually attract clients that are highly creative but perhaps struggle with issues like bipolar disorder, neurodiversity of some type or a complexity of life challenges. Occupational balance and managing change come up a lot as does coping with overwhelm and the complexity of modern life.
Are there strategies that you find yourself mentioning often to clients that someone reading this could apply in their life today?
Yes. Hold things lightly but have a clear vision. If we are too rigid we get stressed and miss emerging opportunities, but if we are not clear about what we want we struggle to make choices and avoid sabotaging ourselves. Simplify and declutter.
Favourite or most recommended online resources, books or apps?
Favourite books: Steering By Starlight by Martha Beck, Love is Letting go of Fear by Jerry Jampolsky, Enabling Positive Change: Coaching Conversations in Occupational Therapy by Pentland, Isaacs-Young, Gash (moi) & Heinz
I spend too much time with my face in my phone as it is, so don’t have an app to recommend.
What do clients most often express appreciation for about your perspective as an OT?
What I have to say next may sound a little sad but when I was an OT I didn’t get the feedback from my clients that I do now that I use coaching. I have reflected back to my early days and remember the thank you cards that used to come in for other staff members on the ward and I don’t think I ever got one and that’s ok because I don’t think it was where I was working at my best.
Since I started coaching I do get lovely feedback and I just realised that was such a missing part in my practice. The appreciation now comes from giving people time to think and helping them to find their own way forward in a supported way. They find the answers to their occupational challenges and struggles when you use a coaching approach to OT and it is less stressful for me too as I kinda burnt quite a lot as a junior OT!
What area of emerging research are you most excited about currently? How do you think it will shape your OT practice and the lives of the people you work with in the years to come?
I was a painter before I was an OT and coaching has been an obsession for the last 12 years. Recently I have gone back to my roots and have been researching the field of creativity in relation to coaching in particular but also, of course, its foundations in OT.
Since OT kinda distanced itself from creative practice and became more medicalised over the last 30 years or so, the rest of the world has gone “hey this creative arts lark is really good, I think humans should do this more”. I am really frustrated that so many projects are now springing up and being funded with creative arts at the core and the OTs are rarely seen… we have missed out in my opinion and risk becoming just highly skilled assessors of function. Rant over.
I know many OTs are doing great work I just wish we could have fingers in more pies, not less. And whilst we need to talk occupation, it needs to be spoken in language that lay people get… its no good saying “occupational deprivation this and occupational alienation that” if you want to engage commissioners or health visitors, or politicians or business people or normal people, they won’t have a clue what you mean. Ok I ranted again,
How has being an occupational therapist influenced how you live your life?
I talk too much about everything and have an opinion about everything hahahah
No seriously, if you take occupational principles, they apply to politics, economics, environmental policy, community development, education etc etc. Health is actually a small part!
Being an OT affects how I parent but I have also learnt that I have to let go much more than I would like. I do get asked advice by lots of friends and family…
I am quite good at pub quizzes 😊
Occupational therapists believe that the ‘occupations’ we engage in are essential to our health and well-being. What are some occupations that shape who you are, bring meaning to your life and/or restore you?
Painting (when I am not swearing at the canvas – only joking)
Swimming – I want to take up open water swimming
Going to comedy especially stand up
Three sensory experiences that bring you a sense of calm?
Having a massage
Having sex when its going well (lol)
Smell of garlic and onions frying
Smell of jasmine
Stroking my cat at bed time
What core values guide you in your life and in your work?
Achievement (bit too much but I have to admit it)
Do you have a phrase, mantra or strategy that helps you show up and live brave, even when life is difficult?
Oh well, it could have been worse
How could I choose to see this differently? AKA Does it need to hurt so much?
What in this situation is really, really funny?
Focus on love
One (big or small) thing on your bucket list and one you have already checked off?
Umm, I kinda don’t do bucket lists! I’ve done some lovely things in my life already like dived in the Maldives and Great Barrier Reef, published two books, got my own studio (that is big) exhibited paintings and sold work. They are pretty big things really so I am kinda content in many ways, I just want to create more stuff and spend time with my family and chums more, sing more karaoke and do Morris dancing and sea swimming.
Words of wisdom or encouragement for anyone reading this who is struggling with a health condition or a life transition?
“God (or insert non-denominational being or deity) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Basically, there are some things we can change, some things we can’t and we need to spend our energy and love on where they can make the most difference to our lives and the lives of those we love and where the world needs it. We need to use our wisdom, and even better our intuition to decide what is best to do and what is best to let go with love.
Jen Gash, BSc.Hons O.T. HCPC, FRSA, is a strange mix of Occupational Therapist, Coach and Artist. You can see her OT Coaching work here www.otcoach.com her paintings here www.jengash.co.uk and something called Discovery Party here www.discoveryparty.co.uk If you are an OT and interested in learning to coach she has an ecourse here. You can also join her on Facebook or Twitter or you can email Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org