Occupational Therapy: ‘It is all about the doing!’

Front-line occupational therapist Anthea Cooper gives her unique insight into occupational therapy at Children and Family Health Surrey, why the work is so rewarding and how children are at the centre of care.

Working in a Surrey school and practicing making a snack, a pupil introduced me to a school visitor as her ‘doing therapist’. I was delighted that the young person knew I was trying to help her do the things she wanted to do.  

Occupational therapy is all about the doing. It is an enabling profession. It provides support to enable children (and adults) to maximise their potential and to participate in daily living activities.

Child with OTsThroughout our day we have tasks that we need to do such as washing, dressing, going to the toilet and eating. And then are there are the tasks that we want to do such as read, going to the gym, meeting friends, and developing a hobby or new skill.

Occupational therapists support children and young people when they are struggling to do these everyday tasks.

When supporting a child with what they need and want to achieve, we will consider the child themselves, the environment that the activity is taking part in e.g. school, home, leisure centre, and the task itself.

We call this the Person, Environment, Occupation Model (PEO model) (Ref Law, M., Cooper, B. A., Strong, S., Stewart, D., Rigby, P., & Letts, L. (1996). The person-environment-occupation model: A transactive approach to occupational performance. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 9-23).

With our knowledge and problem solving ability we will work out what part of the task is hard and suggest ways to overcome the difficulties. Children can also know what they want!

But so often we hear from professionals and parents about what they think a child needs. It is vital that we ask the child too, as it can so often be different to the views of adults. If being an astronaut is important to a young person, we will listen and adapt our approach to incorporate that interest.

OT modelAt Children and Family Health Surrey, we are working hard to enable as many children and families to reach our service by following a universal, targeted and specialist model as illustrated in this diagram.

This model has been used in Surrey for some years now and is fully endorsed by our professional body the Royal College of Occupational Therapy





Our universal service offers access to an occupational therapist through a telephone helpline two afternoons a week. We are able to problem solve with parents, carers and teachers to find a solution to the difficulty. We can also direct them to other services. 

We also provide an interactive webpage on our website with activity and strategy sheets to help the child develop their everyday living skills.

Working collaboratively with schools we also offer whole school advice on environmental changes that can make a big difference to children’s learning. This enables us to reach out to more children.


As part of the targeted service we offer school-based groups where we will work alongside school staff to model programmes. For example, we might support a group of children learning to do up their coat, tie shoe laces or develop their handwriting.

For children that need more support, we will accept referrals for a child to see an occupational therapist face to face. They will be assessed, usually in their environment, and recommendations following this assessment will be made. We might suggest environmental changes or working alongside the child with parents and staff to find a solution though activity and advice.  We might offer school staff and parents the opportunity to attend a workshop.

We run a fantastic  workshop called ‘Doing the Doing’, which teaches parents how to set just right challenges for their children, and offers advice on how to make environmental changes at home. 

Our team

Our Occupational Therapy team is growing in size. Historically, we have found it hard to recruit occupational therapists as there is a national shortage. Currently, we are not finding recruitment a problem and our five Surrey teams are expanding. We believe people want to join our team because:

  • we have a sound structure
  • a good mentoring system
  • and a fantastic team spirit.

We have therapists who are progressing within the service and we have a student who has applied to work in the team following a placement. Like meeting the needs of the children, we also know that it important to meet the needs of our committed staff.

We offer training opportunities that are directly relevant to best practice and Deborah Levy, Professional Lead for Occupational Therapy, runs regular mentoring sessions with our Band 5 Occupational therapists. In addition, she keeps us all informed of evidence-based practice which is at the forefront of our assessments and interventions.

Last month, two of our therapists presented aspects of our service development at the Royal College of Occupational Therapy's national conference. Another therapist presented a poster on integrating occupational therapy groups in schools. We also have staff on national and local occupational therapy special interest group committees.

Elena with board to help children set their own goals

Occupational therapist Elena Foulkes (pictured) who recently joined Children and Family Health Surrey tells us what attracted her to her role: "The very person-centred approach to therapy as well as looking after the staff appealed to me along with offering newly qualified positions in paediatric therapies."

Emily Mann, occupational therapist, was encouraged to progress in her role with Children and Family Health Surrey and says: "There is constant encouragement for career progression and management have been really supportive in finding and sharing opportunities, particularly at the moment in relation to having Occupational Therapy students’ Emily Mann Band 6 OT





We never forget that the child is at the centre of all we do.  We are excited for the future now that occupational therapy, in relation to children’s participation in everyday life, is more greatly understood. We are also excited to have such growing and dynamic teams across Surrey, so we can better serve the children who need us.

Find out more about on the occupational therapy webpage where you can download our leaflet. 

The Occupational Therapy Helpline is available from 2 to 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays on 07974 230 554.