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  • 1. Occupational Therapy student placements at Garden Projects As part of their training, all Occupational Therapy (OT) students are required to spend time on placements to gain practical, professional experience. Traditionally, placement settings are sought in hospitals and intermediate care teams, but given the current national shortage of placements for OT students, training departments are being forced to look outside the usual Health and Social Services OT departments, to less traditional settings, such as social and therapeutic garden projects. The purpose of this Briefing Sheet is to describe the benefits for garden projects and OT students of choosing a garden-based placement and to make recommendations about how best to manage OT student placements at garden projects. Programme Thrive was contacted by the Practice Placement department at Brunel University early in 2005 and it was agreed to take on three second-year students for an eight-week placement. Each student worked alongside a therapist who acted as a supervisor. In addition, twice-weekly group supervision meetings were held, facilitated by a member of the University’s Practice Placement team and a part- time horticultural therapist from Thrive who is an OT. The students were placed at Thrive’s two London garden projects (in Battersea and Hackney) and at a large Social Services Day Centre in London where gardening sessions are held for clients. At the end of the placement, an evaluation questionnaire was completed by the students and supervisors, and this Briefing Sheet is based on what they said. Benefits of a horticultural placement Students, supervisors and the University tutor were very positive about how the placement had enabled the OT students to gain new skills and knowledge of social and therapeutic horticulture (STH), listing the following benefits: Learning environment · Placement offered an opportunity of ‘experiential learning’ and to experience the restorative effects of STH · Opportunity to see in practice what had been learnt in theory and in research · Chance to work in a non-medical, less institutional setting · “My supervisor gave clear answers to my questions and explained why things were done in a particular way” · “Opportunity to have a wide range of experiences due to having a varied timetable”. Skills development · Opportunity to learn a new occupation and to really understand the value of horticulture and to personally feel the benefits · Opportunity to see how SHT extends beyond the medium of gardening to include crafts, flower shows, literacy, cooking produce and awareness of the environment Thrive Briefing · Chance to see how horticulture and related activities can be graded to match individual gardeners Sheet no: · Improving communication skills, due to working with a range of clients · Awareness of different methods of communication, e.g. sign language, pictures and photographs. 11
  • 2. Confidence to manage · “In some ways it helped me not having an OT – to develop at my own pace, understand the role of OT in this setting and to critically analyse and work things through” · “Useful having three students on placement as we provided each other with support” · “Supervisions made me reflect on issues deeply and have been a rich source of information” · “The placement aided both personal and professional development” and gave “Space to practice self management skills” · “Lots of opportunity to put theory into practice and reflect and analyse events/issues critically and in detail”. The staff at the Thrive Garden Projects said that they had gained, too, from hosting the OT students’ placements. They particularly valued the extra support that clients received, and found it useful to learn more about the professional perspective of OT. How to set up OT placements 1. Approach a local OT training department to find out whether they are interested in expanding their choice of OT student placements to include gardening and horticulture as an occupation. 2. Identify a staff member to provide co-ordination and administration of the placements. Good organisation (e.g. acknowledging initial correspondence letters from students) is essential. 3. If possible, invite a qualified OT with experience of horticulture to take the role of professional adviser regarding the practical and academic requirements of the placements. 4. Clarify the role of the therapists who are going to act as supervisors and ensure that they have the opportunity to attend briefing sessions run by the University OT department, e.g. Fieldwork Educator’s training, and to attend pre-placement briefings. 5. Offer students the opportunity to visit the garden before the start date at a convenient time and also offer a chance to participate in a taster session. 6. Be ready to address concerns some students may have about choosing a non-traditional placement, such as how it will give them an OT perspective and what it will be like working with a supervisor who is not an OT. 7. Send each student a welcome letter before they start and enclose a list of recommended reading and websites. 8. Prepare a Student Information Pack to give out at the start of the placement and a folder that can be added to by students and supervisors during their stay. An example of the Student 9. Organise tutorials/support as necessary to discuss the technical/theoretical Information Pack developed aspects of OT within STH settings and to discuss case studies. by Thrive can be viewed in 10. Invite students to attend other relevant presentations, network meetings the Thrive Library and seminars. February 2006