Career profile: mental health

Sonia Smith works as Project Coordinator for Coping Through Football, a project that engages with and improves the well-being of adults and young people experiencing mental health issues.

Sonia Smith, occupational therapist, mental health

If you are able to focus on a person’s strengths and their own goals and aspirations, then occupational therapy is the profession for you. As I see it, occupational therapists have a clear purpose; to enable the person to meet their own goals and plan their own recovery journey. We view people as individuals with their own resources and as their own agents of change.

Read Sonia's answers to the questions below...

Tell us a little about your occupational therapy role and setting

As Project Coordinator for Coping Through Football, my role involves completing tasks to deliver the sessions to the clients – screening all referrals, completing initial assessments with service users and devising client centred action plans and follow-up reviews. 

We actively promote better physical health and wellbeing, and more positive lifestyle choices, so as part of the project have delivered workshops in Smoking Cessation, Sexual Health, TB awareness and Healthy Eating. 

Core to my skills as an occupational therapist, I support clients through individual sessions to achieve their Employment, Education & Training related goals and I continue to provide support once they start work.  In collaboration with the service users I signpost or refer them to services to further support their recovery. I am also involved in collating health related outcome data. (The project is currently part of research lead by UCL looking at the effectiveness of football interventions in a mental health context).

The project requires promotion of the project to potential referral sources within health and social care, as well as promotion to the wider community. This has included awareness sessions to various organisations, including schools and colleges, to educate and reduce the stigma associated with experiencing mental health issues.  A crucial element of my role is to liaise with our external partners London Playing Fields Foundation (LPFF) and Leyton Orient Trust (providers of professional football coaches). I also liaise with referring agencies and provide feedback/letters about the service users engagement and progress. 

The project runs from designated community sites; uniquely these are mainstream community venues for football. Utilising these existing community spaces has been integral to the success of the project and supports the social inclusion ethos of the scheme.
 

I do have an office base, but most of my work occurs on the football pitch.
 

Why did you decide to become an occupational therapist?

Before becoming an occupational therapist, I worked within health and social care settings as a residential support worker for people with autistic tendencies and challenging behaviour, then as a key worker at a day centre for people with profound learning and physical disabilities. Working with these various client groups led me to see the value of purposeful activity for making a difference in people’s lives. 

What’s the best thing about being an occupational therapist in your setting?

I am able to work long term with my client group and am less constrained, as are some therapists, by the requirements of service delivery. This means I am able to support the clients I work with through the key stages of their recovery. Users of the project can engage for as long as they feel that the project is of benefit to them. This has been made possible by the funding streams that support the project (the charity London Playing Fields Foundation, and North East London Foundation Trust.)  
 

What advice would you give anyone considering a career in occupational therapy?

If you are able to focus on a person’s strengths and their own goals and aspirations, then occupational therapy is the profession for you.  We often face challenges in our work,  so you will need to be an individual that is comfortable with being challenged. Luckily our work is underpinned by clear evidence-based practice. 

What unique value does occupational therapy bring to people’s lives?

Through my experience, I see that as a profession, occupational therapists have a clear purpose; to enable the person to meet their own goals and plan their own recovery journey. We view people as individuals with their own resources and as their own agents of change.