Troubled preteen transformed by early occupational therapy intervention

Jesse was a 12-year-old boy with a history of hospitalizations for mood and behavioural problems including threats to harm himself and others. He was suspended from school many times because of aggressive behaviour and stopped going to school altogether. He committed chargeable offences and was at high risk of entering the justice system. He made allegations of familial abuse, felt unloved and unwanted by family and peers and had low self-esteem.

Jesse was highly resistant to therapy or interventions of any kind but was very keen to take part in work-based sessions with an occupational therapist. Given his age, the idea of having a job was very appealing and made him feel very mature. The opportunity to do something that gave him independence, responsibility and respect was what he needed to move on with his life.

As a result of work-based therapy, he learned to follow rules, take care of his appearance, communicate appropriately, be responsible, get along with others, and put forward his best effort. Because he realized that he had skills and abilities and could control his life in a positive way, his self-esteem grew. Jesse went into his teen years with a thirst for independence and productivity instead of becoming a statistic in the justice and health systems.

Occupational therapists are trained to use age-appropriate and meaningful treatment interventions. Jesse’s occupational therapist realized that talk-based mental health approaches were not effective for Jesse because they were not engaging or meaningful to him.

Jesse’s involvement in the kind of therapy that best suited him was a transforming experience. From his and his family’s perspectives, OT helped lead him down a healthier future path rather than one leading to jail and serious mental health issues.