Occupational Therapy for Mental Health

Occupational Therapy for Mental Health

“We often don’t realise the progress we have made because we are raising the bar every day”

What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

“So, what does an occupational therapist do?”. This is probably the question I have answered the most in my career. And to be honest at times it can be a very hard question to answer. I think the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) gives one of the best definitions:

‘Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement’ [1]

Ultimately, the word occupation is what typically catches people out as this is often synonymous with paid employment. Well, to an OT, occupation refers to every single task and/or activity that ‘occupies’ a person’s time, hence the name. As noted by the WFOT, these activities are typically things that people need to do (e.g., self-care), want to do (e.g., participation in leisure occupations), or is expected to do (e.g., finding and maintaining employment) within their daily life. Now that you have a better understanding of what ‘occupations’ are, you should hopefully have a better insight into how broad OT can be and how diverse the role truly is.

What is Psychosocial Disability?

The word ‘psychosocial’ describes the “intersection and interaction of social, cultural, and environmental influences on the mind and behaviour” [2]. Therefore, if a person has a psychosocial disability, they have a confirmed mental health diagnosis which substantially impacts their ability to participate in one or several activities of daily life including self-care, self-management, sexual expression and/or employment.

While there is a difference between acute mental health conditions/difficulties and psychosocial disability, it is important to be very gentle towards yourself and to seek professional assistance if you are concerned.

OT and Mental Health?

You may be asking now - “How can an OT work with people with mental health difficulties?”. (Please note the term ‘mental health difficulties’ is going to be used over more common terms such as ‘mental health problems’ to reduce/remove the stigma associated with living with a psychosocial disability). Well, I may be a little biased, but I believe OT’s can play a vital role in supporting their clients with mental health difficulties by supporting them to develop the skills needed to live their lives to the fullest.

Individuals who experience mental health difficulties or psychosocial disability, can be extremely impacted by their diagnosis which limits their ability to do the things they want or need to do. Psychosocial disability can make it really hard, or seemingly impossible, for a person to live their life on their own terms as it can disrupt daily routines, participation in occupational roles (e.g., being an active and involved parent, caregiver, sibling, employee, etc), neurodevelopment, work performance and engagement, and a person’s ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships. Take Agoraphobia for example, this diagnosis makes it nearly impossible for a person to leave the safety of their home. If a person cannot leave their home, you can really see how other areas of their life may decline due to this barrier (e.g., inability to maintain paid employment, inability to meet relationship expectations, significant difficulty participating in physical activity). So how can an OT help?

OT’s can assist individuals with psychosocial disabilities in a variety of ways that is unique on a case-by-case basis. The amazing part of how OT’s work is that no two approaches will be the same to ensure the client is heard and involved as much as possible throughout the therapy process. What separates us from other therapeutic services is that OT’s will work with you in a very hands-on sense within the context of your own home and community to ensure you are working towards goals that matter to you, ensure you are addressing what you are having difficulty with, and ensuring that you are working at a rate you are comfortable with (you don’t have to jump right into the deep end if you don’t want to).

Some examples of occupational therapy modalities are:

·       Psychoeducation: Providing ongoing education to assist you to understand your diagnosis and its symptoms.

·       Routine development: Assisting with the development and implementation of regular routines to increase predictability of daily life in addition to providing a structured week.

·       Breathing exercises: Ongoing education with breathing and grounding activities to assist with managing acute stages of anxiety to increase a person’s ability to participate in activities of daily life (e.g., managing the stress of a job interview).

·       Social-emotional regulation skills development: Ongoing education and training on how to better understand your mood and strategies to manage sudden mood changes and how to better communicate this with others.

·       Fatigue Management: Ongoing education and development of strategies on how to manage fatigue associated with daily life. OT’s can assist individuals with structuring their day to ensure they are utilising their time as best as possible and avoiding burnout from being too active (e.g., understanding your social battery, Spoon Theory)

How can I access a mental health OT?

There are a few ways you can access an OT for assistance with managing your mental health difficulties. You can:

·       Access OT via your NDIS plan if you have a recognised psychosocial disability.

·       Visit your GP to discuss a referral to OT via Medicare.

If you are unsure if you need further assistance to OT for your mental health, you can also visit your GP and discuss accessing a Mental Health Care Plan which will allow for subsidised access to services such as Psychology.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing significant difficulty with mental health management, please speak up with a loved one or please contact a hotline below:

·       Lifeline: 13 11 14

·       Beyond Blue 1300 659 467 (Information & Assistance)

·       Emergency Services: 000



[1] https://www.wfot.org/resources/definitions-of-occupational-therapy-from-member-organisations

[2] https://dictionary.apa.org/psychosocial

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To book an appointment with an occupational therapist, please call 07 5220 8909 or submit a referral form below.

General Practitioners can send referrals to:
Email: hello@forbes.care
Fax: 07 5302 6482
Address: Shop 15/102 Burnett St, Buderim

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