When Claudia Stephson returned to the MontCler aged care facility in Clermont after a few days away, she was warmly welcomed by the residents she works with.
It’s no wonder when you learn more about the care and attention she brings to her role as the facility’s diversional therapist.
It was a career move made later in life and one that is not well understood.
“While we were living near Charleville, running the post office at a little town called Morven, I volunteered with a Tai Chi group to do some falls prevention,” Claudia said.
“At my first community session, we obviously had people with wheelie walkers and walking sticks, those with reduced mobility.
“I stood there and I had the biggest smile and I thought ‘this is what I want to do with my life’.
“I decided to study diversional therapy, but I had to look it up because nobody knows what it means.”
Claudia, who is originally from Belgium, has a degree in tourism and speaks five languages.
She travelled extensively in Australia, married a Queenslander and had two adult children before discovering her new direction in life.
“A diversional therapist is the person who uses leisure activities to enhance quality of life for people who are either in care or in an institution of sorts,” she said.
“Some of us work in prisons. Some of us work with mental health patients; a lot of us work with rehab alongside an occupational therapist, but they are two distinct qualifications.”
Claudia is a passionate advocate for her profession.
“It’s interesting to educate people about diversional therapy because someone might say ‘you’re just playing bingo today’,” she said.
“But if you analyse what’s happening, there’s fine motor activities, there is hand-eye coordination.
“They have recognition because you’ve got to look, recognise, choose numbers.
“There’s a sensory element because you get a reward, and you get pleasure from that.
“That’s the theory behind it. Yes, we play bingo once a week, but there’s so many other things involved in that.”
Claudia explains the importance of such therapy for residents.
“Imagine you live at home, and what do you do on your weekend off?” she said.
“You potter around, you do some housekeeping, you do some cooking, watch TV, you do whatever you like when you like.
“Then you move into care.
“Your meals are taken care of, your laundry is taken care of, your cleaning is taken care of, your shopping is taking care of – all of a sudden you have what we call a ‘burden of leisure’.
“They have this sea of free time and nothing to fill it with. It makes time go so slow, and it makes people just want to curl up because they think ‘what’s the point?’.”
Claudia is always working to tailor activities to the needs of individuals.
“There is one resident who was a keen gardener – and he comes to the raised garden and he feels the soil to see if it’s damp enough. Then he puts the watering can on his wheelie walker, walks all the way down to the hose, fills up with water and brings it back.
“Give him a trowel and he’s happy.
“This is now his job, and part of his routine and he’ll come out and sit in the sun for a little while and then go and do the watering.”
While there are a number of activities co-ordinators in our facilities, Claudia is the only qualified diversional therapist in Mackay Hospital and Health Service.
Thank you Claudia for bringing joy to the lives of our Montcler residents.