One example is the Virtual Dementia Tour. In this blog, Emma Robinson, one of our final year students, shares her experience of engaging in this experiential workshop.
The virtual dementia tour (VDT) is an evidence based experience that gives participants a simulated idea of what it might be like to live with dementia. For me, it was the single most valuable extra-curricular experience I have undertaken throughout my training. No written account can do it justice, you simply need to experience it for yourself! It’s effectiveness lies in its surprise, so this piece will not describe the VDT as you might hope or expect; but will attempt to give you an account of how it made me feel and more importantly how it has developed my beliefs and practices.
It would be easy to assume that this experience is only relevant if you are interested in working with those with dementia. Wrong. I completed the session, having previously found it difficult to connect with my reflexive side, in a frame of mind to evaluate every contact I have ever made with any service user. I have worked with people with dementia, learning disabilities, autism, brain injuries, mental health conditions and many more, and truthfully this experience made me realise that I have never truly empathised with any one of them; what I thought was empathy, was actually a superficial speculation of how they might feel. I now realise that empathy is about more than “putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes” or “seeing things from their perspective”. I feel that it is about immersing yourself in someone’s physical, psychosocial and emotional being, and attempting to understand how the complex phenomenon of bodily sensations, social interactions, relationships and feelings creates a lens by which they processes their world.
Without giving too much away, during the VDT I was met by an overwhelming sense of fear, confusion and vulnerability – this was not what I was expecting. The challenges of simple tasks, and the following analysis and explanation have allowed me to view human behaviour as “deliberate” and “logical”, whereas I have previously heard behaviour termed “random” and “challenging”. After my experience I was met by comfort, relief, empathy and emotion. On reflection I felt guilty that I had not been able to truly empathise, and angry that so many people in caring or therapeutic roles were likely making false assumptions.
In terms of my future practice I now feel very passionately about true empathy and communication. Whenever I can I will advocate for environmental adaption, both physically and communicatively to improve service user experiences. I appreciate the importance of a positive, patient, empathetic and enabling approach, and the importance of goal directed co-occupations even more than before. It may seem aloof, but I cannot recommend the experience more, as it has certainly had a positive impact on my future practice. I now truly believe that empathy is not something to learn, read, or discuss; but something to live.
Due to the success of this event, The OT Society is arranging another session for semester 2, 2018. Details to follow.