What does occupational therapy have to do with mental health?
When someone thinks about the treatment of mental illness, occupational therapy doesn’t often come to mind. The CanadianAssociation of Occupational Therapists is hoping to change this because there is a critical role that occupational therapists can play in helping clients live full, active and more hopeful lives empowering them to determine their goals, lead their care, and work towards recovery.
Charting a new course
For individuals with mental illness, whether it is anxiety, psychosis, addiction or a mood disorder, finding solutions to everyday challenges can be overwhelming. These challenges are compounded by lack of understanding of mental health in general, and the stigma or fear associated with the unknown.
What is perhaps equally as frustrating in mental health is the journey of recovery never follows a straight line. Treatment options are complex and often require years of finding the right balance of medication, counseling, social support and self-driven research and learning. This is where occupational therapists provide value to mental health teams and can be an important solution to the complexity of mental illness.
Occupational therapists are highly educated health professionals who focus on maximizing the potential of individuals through engagement in activities (or occupations) of daily living. In other words, occupational therapists work with clients to set goals and find ways to do all the things one needs to do and wants to do each day from going to work or school, to recreation, to taking care of oneself or others.
Occupational therapy: Solutions for daily living
One might argue that recovery from mental illness is not simply about diagnosing a chemical imbalance or atypical functioning in the brain, but identifying coping strategies and working with clients to find a path that incorporates meaningful activities, supportive social interactions and positive environments which reduce triggers.
For someone who suffers from schizophrenia, for example, and occupational therapists can work with this individual to better understand environmental triggers and coping strategies to support their engagement in work or school, participate in social activities and know their limits in stressful situations.
Occupational therapists also work with families, health care providers, and stakeholder groups to educate and raise awareness about mental illness and barriers to mental health in the home, at work and in the community to promote supportive environments for clients.