Otago Polytechnic
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Exploring connectedness

Penelope Kinney and Dr Linda Wilson

The ability to withstand change and thrive in a new environment is a challenge for most people. People transitioning from forensic psychiatric secure units to open rehabilitation wards face a unique set of challenges. 

Penelope Kinney, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic has recently completed a thesis that focuses on these individuals’ experience, Exploring Connectedness: The meaning of transition experiences for patients within a forensic psychiatric service. She completed her qualitative research project in a series of interviews applying Heideggerian phenomenological methodology. 

Her work provides an interpretation of the narratives she gathered from five males aged between 23 and 37. The interviews track each individual’s progress from anticipating their transition through to their initial experiences of “freedom”. They then explore the individual’s experiences of the stepping stones they faced in “doing what they had to do to prove themselves” and the acceptance of the fact that “assistance comes in many forms”.

Penelope’s findings identified the critical importance of identifying a genuine connection to occupations, people who support them and a place in the world that provided real meaning for these participants. “There needs to be a conscious effort to help these people make the connections they will require to thrive in the future,” she says.

Her aim was to provide insight into the service user’s direct experiences to help health professionals develop realistic and meaningful transition plans. “Clinicians often ask me the question: How did you get them to tell you that?

“I have the privileged position of being able to gain participants’ trust knowing that their individual disclosures will be kept in strict confidence.”

In 2010 she was one of seven occupational therapists whose abstract was accepted for presentation at the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services conference in Vancouver, Canada. She presented her emerging data to an international audience.

“My overarching goal for future research is to collect more research data to continue to give insight into the ways in which occupational therapy can be applied within forensic psychiatric services to help these service users reintegrate into their communities.” 

Kinney, P., Wilson, L. H., & Galvin, S. (2012) Exploring Connectedness: The meaning of transition experiences for those within a forensic psychiatric service. New Zealand Association of Occupational Therapists conference 2012, Hamilton, 19–22 September.