UAlberta occupational therapy grad uses traditional media and purposeful activity to help people with mental illness in Calgary

    Being on a video broadcast show helps members of Potential Place gain confidence

    By Laurie Wang on February 16, 2016

    (Calgary) Zach Brady is the sports news anchor for Potential Place’s bi-weekly broadcast. Suffering from anxiety and depression, doing video broadcasts has helped him gain confidence and answer phone calls.

    “It has helped me with my public speaking and speaking in general. Before when I worked for Target when it was in Canada, I was so scared to answer the phone and people there would get mad at me,” Brady, 19, says.

    University of Alberta MSc Occupational Therapy graduate Sylvia Tsang helped develop and foster the “marketing and communications program” at Potential Place to help members like Brady. Currently a mental health worker there, Tsang hopes the clubhouse dedicated to maintaining a community for individuals with mental illness will be able to welcome an official occupational therapist position in the future.

    “I got involved with Potential Place originally as a U of A student on one of my occupational therapy (OT) clinical placements. I continue to use the elements of the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance which I learned in class as I work with members like Zach,” says Tsang, who was hired as a mental health worker for Potential Place after she graduated with an MSc Occupational Therapy from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine in 2015. Currently, two other UAlberta OT students from the Calgary satellite campus are at Potential Place on clinical placement.

     “The OT students are great and Sylvia has really helped me with my self-esteem and confidence,” says Brady, who now attends social and recreational events at Potential Place. “Last week, I went ice skating with the other members at Potential Place. This was a big deal for me because I am blind in one eye and have glaucoma in the other. My doctors have shut down my dreams as a child of playing hockey and having a career as a hockey player.

    Sylvia sat down with me and we talked through my fears and she listened to my story and encouraged me to pursue my dream, despite my mind always telling me that I couldn’t. She was stable and consistent in my life the moment I joined Potential Place. She sees me as a friend rather than another client with a mental illness.”

    Tsang says occupational therapists work very closely with individuals with mental illness. They have the skills to identify people who need help and work with them, promoting a sense of self-worth, encouraging positive self-talk, leading their care and improving quality of life.

    “I help with understanding the role of habituation, developing the routine of working and getting outside, and providing purposeful activity such as the video broadcast or even working in our coffee bistro,” Tsang explains.

    Occupational therapists also assess the home and make sure individuals with mental illness have safe and proper equipment to do everyday activities. For Geoff Ezeokonkwo, 52, who has suffered two strokes and is bipolar, this help is vital.

    “I was a lab tech at a chemical company but because of my bipolar manic episodes, I had to stop working. I’ve been out of a job since 1997,” he says.

    As an occupational therapist, Tsang made sure Ezeokonkwo had the equipment he needed at home – a tub transfer bench and a safety grab bar – since he wasn’t very mobile. She also checks to make sure he is using his cane and practicing proper bending techniques, as his gait and balance is quite unsteady.

    “Geoff has insomnia and some days are very hard for him,” says Tsang, “but he keeps coming to Potential Place and I’ve seen him improve over the last year. He’s involved in our broadcast and even gets some of his acting on video. He’s gained a lot of confidence.”

    “Sylvia is very good. She’s trained in occupational therapy and I see it’s very helpful,” Ezeokonkwo says. “To everyone at the clubhouse, she’s the best.”

    Not commonly known to most Calgarians, the University of Alberta’s MSc Occupational Therapy program is also offered in Calgary at the satellite campus located at the U of C downtown building. The program is a combination of in-person instruction as well as videoconferencing and online instruction delivered from the Edmonton or Calgary campuses.


    The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta

    As the only free-standing faculty of rehabilitation medicine in North America, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s vision is to be at the forefront of knowledge generation and scholarship in rehabilitation. Through excellent teaching, research and service to the community, the Faculty is committed to enhancing quality of life, promoting participation and autonomy, and improving function for citizens in Alberta and beyond.

    A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries, common spinal disorders (back pain), seniors and dementia and speech-language disorders, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to inspire the realization of the full potential of individuals, families and communities.  The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.