Occupational Therapy in Mental Health | A Guide to Using OT for Mental Illnesses

Did you know that occupational therapy in mental health is one of the most effective treatments for mental illnesses? As mental health becomes a big issue for American youths today, occupational therapists are encouraged to utilize occupational therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to help teens overcome mental illnesses.

The National Review reports a study by the medical journal Translational Psychiatry that mental health problems have increased in adolescents with 36% of teenage girls suffering from depression. Occupational therapy, a form of rehabilitating therapy that focuses on helping patients who face disruptions in performing daily tasks, could be used to help patients suffering from mental illnesses. Occupational therapy utilizes an all-inclusive method that looks at the patient’s environmental, physical and cognitive aspect of rehabilitation. As an occupational therapist, there are many benefits of occupational therapy that can help teenagers overcome their mental health problems. Let’s take a closer look.

Occupational Therapy in Mental Health | A Guide for Mental Illnesses

Anxiety Disorders

Whether you like it or not, anxiety is a common and normal emotion that is present in everyone. However, when your worries become a disruptive force in your life that prevents you from performing your daily activities, you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Mental Health America categorizes anxiety into six forms of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias.

Patients who are suffering from anxiety disorders encounter challenges in social participation, activities of daily living (ADL), sleeping, and participating in education and work environments. Occupational therapy helps teens suffering from anxiety disorders by involving them in task-related activities that will enable them to engage in everyday settings. The American Occupational Therapy Association emphasizes the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to help patients suffering from anxiety disorders to cope with their behavior. Occupational therapy enables patients to identify the source of their anxiety and incorporate various strategies to include in their daily routines to help him/her manage his/her behavior. This involves managing the patient’s emotions and reaction with different factors that triggers the patient’s source of anxiety. CBT is an example of how occupational therapy in mental health can help patients re-engage in their daily routines.

Occupational therapy in mental health

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The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 12.5% of teenagers ages 12 to 17 in the United States, roughly 3 million people, have suffered from a major depressive episode. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders affecting young adults in America. Those affected by depression lack energy and interest in daily activities in addition to being disengaged from social activities. There are multiple forms of depression such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. Among teens, the most common forms of depression are adjustment disorder, dysthymia, bipolar disorder and major depression.

As an occupational therapist, it is important to help patients work towards overcoming their depression by learning how to slowly regain their engagement in daily activities. Specifically, OTs can help their patients reflect on their behavior and emotions. This way, they can identify the source of their problem and finding a balance to find meaning within their activities. Understanding the effects of depression on an individual’s behavior is crucial to being able to later help the patient engage in activities. Encouraging participation and providing a structure within treatment is an important part of an OT’s role in helping patients manage their depression.


Occupational therapy in mental health

Eating Disorders

The Massachusetts Eating Disorders Association reports that about 40% of teenage girls have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association defines eating disorders as the association of strong negative “emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.” Eating disorders are categorized into three main types: anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating. When someone is suffering from an eating disorder, his/her behaviors and attitudes toward his/her activities are affected by their constant focus on food and weight. This can cause a disruption in the performance of daily activities.

Occupational therapy helps those diagnosed with an eating disorder to regain participation in their daily routines. OTs could incorporate occupational therapy in mental health problems such as eating disorders by utilizing sensory therapy and psychotherapy to help their patients. Generating positive associations with occupations and various thought processes can help patients overcome their beliefs and views on food and weight issues. The source of the patients’ behaviors is based on associations and perceptions that they have created of and by themselves. So, it is important for OTs to help patients identify how their emotions are affecting their behaviors. After patients are made aware of their emotions, OTs could utilize various strategies to help their patients manage their lifestyle through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Occupational therapy in mental health

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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  1. I was very happy to read the article as an OT who’s passion lies in mental health.

    Saddened by the diminishment of OT in the mental health world and my deep belief in the incredible role / service that OT has to offer – I was surprised to learn of AOTA endorsing CBT and SEL as ‘sanctioned’ approaches to be used by OTs….

    I am 100% in agreement with the appropriateness of OT in mental health….yet paid positions in mental health are extremely scarce and so many psych professionals not only are unaware of the OT philosophy, but will state outright that this is ‘outside the scope of service…..OTs are not licensed to use these mental health approaches.’

    I would love any info anyone could offer supporting the ‘sanctioning’ of OTs working with people who are trying to manage anxiety disorders.

  2. Hi Wendy, I am a student looking for evidence of Occupational Therapists practicing (for pay!) in the field of mental health. Whilst this is prevalent in places like Australia, it sadly does not seem to be a realistic occupation for OT’s here. I also note that there has been no response so far to your post – I had hoped that it might elicit some feedback. Thank you for your comment though, it has helped substantiate my suspicion that OT’s in healthcare in the US is an abstract ideal at the moment.

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