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Kawa ‘River’ Model Workshop

Kawa ‘River’ Model Workshop

Be First!
by July 6, 2017 Events

Authors: Beki Dellow & Hannah Skeels

A four-week workshop facilitated by occupational therapists to help you improve your life balance, health and well-being using metaphors to analyse your life. You will hopefully learn life-long skills which can be used to identify ways to reduce or remove obstacles impacting on your daily life.

This workbook contains the following:

  • An introduction to the Kawa Model
  • Workshop aims and a weekly planner
  • Some exercises to work on in your own time

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Name: ……………………………………………………..

Start Date:………………………………………………….. 

Facilitator contact details:……………………………..



As occupational therapists, we aim to help people do the things which are important to them in their daily lives (occupations). Working in a wide variety of settings across physical and mental health, occupational therapists can help people to overcome barriers which are stopping them from doing the things they want to do in a number of ways such as teaching new skills, using existing skills, suggesting different ways of doing things.

The Kawa Model was created as a theory to help occupational therapists work together with individual’s to identify obstacles in their daily lives which are getting in the way of them doing the things they would like or need to be doing.

In Japanese the word ‘kawa’ means river. The Kawa Model uses the metaphor of a river to help you focus on your current circumstances and identify ways to improve your quality of life and overall well-being. We begin by asking you to create a cross-section of your river to show how your life is now. The river bed/sides are your environment (e.g. where you live, your relationships, culture) and can have a negative or positive impact on your life. Within the river there will be rocks and these signify any problems/difficulties which you have. The size and impact of these rocks on the other components of the river should reflect how big a problem you feel they are. In addition to the rocks, there will also be driftwood in your river. Driftwood are the personal factors which can be positive or negative, they may be parts of your personality, values or special skills that you have (e.g. being open about feelings).

Often there are ‘sparkles’ in a person’s river too, which can represent people someone or something that is special to you.

The water in the river represents your life flow/energy/well-being. By increasing the spaces between the elements in the river such as breaking down or removing the rocks (obstacles) will hopefully help to improve your life flow and consequently improve your quality of life. You will be encouraged to use your own metaphor which is personal to you rather than the river during this workshop. An example could be a forest path or something that is connected to an occupation that is meaningful to you.

Example of a Kawa Model cross section created by a previous participant


Week 1 – beginning of the workshop

beki week 1

Week 8 – end of the workshop

beki week 8



Week 1

Title: Introduction to the Kawa ‘river’ Model. Focus on ‘Myself’ (river water)

Aim: To use the Kawa ‘river’ Model to begin to create a personal cross-section (how life is now).


  • Introductions/group rules.
  • Detailed introduction to the Kawa Model.
  • Begin to create a Kawa cross-section (or other personal metaphor), the focus of the rest of session is on water (life flow/energy).
  • Complete role checklist and discuss importance of roles in life and impact loss of roles can have on life flow/well-being.
  • Complete an Interest Checklist at home and bring to the next session.

River bed & river sides = Environment – friends/family, religion, pets, culture, living situation.

Water = Life flow/well-being.

Rocks = Difficulties/problems you are currently experiencing – symptoms/diagnosis, work, education, health and well-being of loved ones, anger, trauma.

Driftwood = Personal attributes and resources – values, personality/character, finances, relationships.

Ø   Rocks (problems) Driftwood (personal qualities) Riverbed/river sides (environment)


Week 1 continued

Title/theme: Myself – Life flow and energy (river water)

Aim: To learn about the meaning and importance of ‘occupation’ and ‘occupational balance’ and how it relates to life flow (river water).


  • Discuss personal river water (life flow/energy).
  • Discuss SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals.
  • Occupational therapist to discuss occupational balance (self-care, leisure and productivity) and meaningful/purposeful occupations.

Occupational balance

According to occupational therapists, everything we do in our daily lives is an occupation. These can be broken down into three different categories:

  • Self-care – (e.g. sleep, personal care, dressing/undressing, eating, taking medication, exercise).
  • Productivity – (e.g. employment (paid or voluntary), education, household tasks, travelling to and from a location).
  • Leisure – (e.g. swimming, reading, listening to music, meeting a friend, watching a film).

Getting the right balance of occupations can be difficult and people usually find that they are doing too much or too little of either productivity, self-care or leisure occupations causing there to be an imbalance and this will affect life flow/well being.

My personal goals for the week ahead:



Types of Occupations

(Write ‘M’ – Meaningful and/or ‘P’ – Purposeful by each occupation you list)


(E.g. cleaning teeth, showering, sleep, eating, exercise)     

Exercise (P & M – purposeful and meaningful)






(E.g. swimming, art, music, TV, *exercise)

Exercise (P & M – purposeful and meaningful)







(E.g. washing up, employment, DIY)                                                      





Week 2

Title/theme: My Environment (river sides and river bed)

Aims: To consider how our environment can impact on our life flow and to set short term goals linked to individual Kawa cross-sections.


  • Revisit Kawa cross sections and complete river sides and river bed.
  • Discuss personal life flow in relation to environments.
  • Go out into the local environment if time allows (e.g. by the river in Christchurch) . Discuss the environment and impact on well-being.
  • Discuss practical ways to improve environment (e.g. social, physical) such as de-cluttering, gardening, support networks.


My personal goals for the week ahead:






Week 3

Title/theme: Rocks (problems) and Driftwood (personal resources)

Aims: To improve life flow by identifying problems/challenges and focus on personal internal resources.


  • Focus on ‘rocks’ and ‘driftwood’ and add these to the Kawa cross-section and discuss the impact rocks have on life flow/energy and how driftwood can help the flow or block it further.
  • Reflect on progress so far (breaking down rocks and improving life flow) and how to move forward.


My personal goals for the week ahead:







Week 4

Aims: To look at life now and completed Kawa cross-section


  • Complete Kawa cross section (here and now) and form personal SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals for the future.
  • Reflect on what you have learnt over the past four weeks and consider when you might use this learning in the future.
  • Consider creating a metaphor of how life could be in the future or how you would like it to be.
  • Complete the workshop evaluation.
  • Facilitator to introduce the Bridge over Troubled Waters social group.

Now that you have reached the end of this workshop we hope that you have been able to increase your life flow and are able to do more of the things which are meaningful to you. We wish you all the best for continuing to use these skills in the future and look forward to seeing you at the Bridge Over Troubled Waters social group in the future.



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