“It is so important not to be defined by tragedy,  to be shaped by it but never defined by it” Amanda Holden – Britains got Talent 

How can meaningful occupation and occupational therapy be useful in healing and recovery from trauma? and why should occupational therapists be trauma-informed?

This morning I was sent this video by a friend, I found it really powerful because not only is the story in itself one of beauty and empowerment but also because it ties together everything I have learnt this year about the use of meaningful occupation in both physical and emotional healing.

This incredibly moving dance routine was choreographed to pay tribute to the victims of the Manchester bombing.

The video tells the story of Holly whose aunt was killed in the attack. Like so many of the children who were at the Manchester arena that night, Holly has experienced both physical and emotional trauma. Physically, Holly broke her right knee, he left leg and foot was broken, she suffers from nerve damage and must use a splint to be able to walk. Holly has already had eleven operations to help her recover physically.

An occupation that had been meaningful to Holly before the attack came to play a central role in her recovery. Only a couple of days after it happened Holly was asking the medical staff…”When can I go back to dancing?” Dancing is meaningful to Holly, her mum describes it as being “everything to her”.

Because of the damage to her legs, returning to dancing may have seemed like an impossible goal for Holly. Through returning to dancing Holly has been empowered to shine, to show incredible bravery facing what, I can only imagine, are her worst fears in returning to a venue similar to the one where the attack happened. Social isolation is a real risk for survivors of trauma and those with physical disabilities, however, through grading and adapting the occupation and a desire to keep Holly dancing as part of the team the choreographer has done an incredible work in valuing Holly’s presence and contribution. It is a beautiful example of the importance of meaningful occupation and social inclusion in both physical and emotional healing.

For me, this video summarised the answer to a task I was given this year by my lecturer Sarah Bodell (OT)…

“Find a way to explain how occupation links to health and wellbeing, I want you to tell them this…What you do affects how you feel...”   

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