Glenhazel resident Caryn Berman joined SANCA Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre as a part-time occupational therapist in February 2021.
Berman, who works at SANCA Wedge Gardens four mornings a week, believes that occupational therapy (OT) has a huge role to play in substance use disorder rehabilitation. She works with men at the rehab centre who are in the process of recovering from various addictions.
“I am fortunate to have a lovely big therapy department which enables me to run groups, while some individuals work quietly on their own.
“I generally screen people to evaluate their level of functioning and socialisation, before dividing them into groups. The groups are aimed at recovery, to help individuals develop the skills they will need after leaving the rehabilitation centre, good work habits and life skills,” says Berman, explaining that groups can take the form of discussions, games and crafts.
Creative groups introduce leisure activities and skills that can be emotionally meaningful and financially rewarding, and consist of activities such as bead work, cooking, leather work, woodwork, decoupage, drawing, adult colouring in, chocolate making and baking, among others.
“Many patients got involved in the creative activities and have been following through with them in their own time in the evenings and on weekends, which helps to fill the long hours when no therapy takes place. This is a realistic training process for life outside of rehabilitation,” says Berman, explaining that OT plays an essential part in rehabilitation as it provides a tool for leaving and functioning in the outside world.
“Patients find it easier to discuss matters affecting them – whether these are their emotions, skills or work requirements – when they are busy with a practical activity. It is less threatening when performing activities and often more enjoyable, as one gets involved in the game or task that reflects the skills or attitudes required in life.
“Groups can become quite heated and competitive, and life skills become apparent as one plays the game! While doing crafts, one learns valuable skills, such as following instructions, correcting errors and trying again until you master a skill. The patients love taking home items that they have made and giving them to their families as reflections of how far they have progressed. This also helps to improve self-esteem,” says Berman.
Some of SANCA Wedge Gardens’ patients have skills which they are now teaching others. “This also has a positive effect on their emotional wellbeing. To take your place in society, you need to develop social skills, good work habits and a meaningful, healthy use of leisure time. OT is a meaningful, practical therapy to develop these skills,” says Berman.
She also works with the other therapists at SANCA Wedge Gardens to add value to their work, by assessing and evaluating patients and adding to their insights.
“Through my own life experiences, I am able to add a mature vision and input. The patients see me as an older person who has had some ups and downs and sees life realistically.
“I enjoy the craft activities and love opening eyes to new skills and possibilities that have never been explored. I enjoy leading the groups and reflecting change to the patients. I find the men show me great respect and are willing to explore areas that they were reluctant to look at before, as these are done through activities which are less confrontational,” says Berman.
Berman graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1979. Initially working in the psychiatric field, with disturbed teenagers, people with eating disorders and adults with mental disabilities, she then went on to work with newly blinded adults before changing to paediatric therapy, where she worked with children with learning disabilities.
Also having been an associate lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand’s OT Department, Berman encourages students to do their practicals at Wedge Gardens.
“One day, I would love to have an open department where patients can work any time of the day to fill the empty hours. This is not possible at the moment, but I can dream,” she says.
For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens and the Full Circle Recovery Programme, visit www.wedgegardens.co.za.