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Occupational Therapy

The primary goal of occupational therapy is to assist people of all walks of life to achieve optimal health, engage in the daily activities of their choosing, and prevent future injury, illness, or disability. Occupational therapists may work in elementary or school settings, substance abuse treatment centers, or in the mental health field. This type of therapeutic intervention teaches people to adapt to and cope with their condition while performing effectively at work, school, or home. Whether a person is suffering from substance abuse, mental illness, or a behavioral condition, occupational therapists are there to advocate for their patients and enable them to live life to its fullest.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a form of therapy that assists people in participating in the things they want or need to do through the use of therapeutic, everyday activities. For example, a child suffering from a cognitive disability may receive this type of therapy in order to be more successful in school or more comfortable in social situations.

The American Occupational Therapy Association describes the three key aspects of this type of therapy.[1]

  1. Patients receive an individualized evaluation in order to determine the person’s unique goals and treatment requirements.
  2. Therapists provide customized interventions that help improve the patient’s ability to complete daily activities and reach their treatment goals.
  3. Patients undergo an outcome evaluation during which the therapist determines whether or not the patient’s goals are being met or what changes need to be made to the treatment plan.

Occupational therapy may occur across multiple settings, including a person’s home, work, school, or therapist’s office. This allows patients to receive therapy in various environments where they may be met with difficulties that require assistance. In order to provide a comprehensive, whole-patient approach, occupational therapists often approach clients with a holistic perspective. As a result, the patient is the center of the treatment plan, so the treatment changes and adjusts to meet each person’s individual needs.

This type of therapy can help patients do specific tasks and activities with success, such as:

  • Maintaining proper hygiene
  • Eating or drinking without help from others
  • Doing office work or one’s job
  • Doing chores such as laundry or cleaning the house
  • Moving around one’s home without assistance from others
  • Taking part in activities with friends and family
  • Enjoying leisure activities

Simply put, occupational therapists help patients achieve any type of task or activity that they need to achieve in an easy and pain-free way.

What Role Does Occupational Therapy Play in Mental Health?

Occupational therapy takes a holistic approach that is well-suited for mental health treatment settings. For example, occupational therapists are trained in a variety of fields, including:[2]

  • Physical well-being
  • Cognitive assessments
  • Group processes
  • Socio-emotional skills
  • Sensory strategies
  • Therapeutic alliances
  • Participation in activities of daily learning (ADLs)

All of these techniques help people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse live more independently and overcome any challenges they may face. Let’s take a deeper look into how occupational therapists use these interventions to help their clients.

Group Processes

Group therapy sessions are beneficial because they allow patients to not only work with a therapist but to work with others who can relate to what they are going through. Group sessions are held in small groups with less than 10 people and cover a variety of topics, including life skills, money management, nutrition, and job preparation. While led by a licensed therapist, the patients in the group do most of the work by bouncing ideas and experiences off of one another to come up with more effective life solutions.

Emotion Regulation Strategies

Being able to participate in daily activities is vital for one’s well-being and mental health. However, doing simple things such as playing a game, cleaning the house, or going out with friends can be difficult for people with a disability or mental health condition. Fortunately, occupational therapists are fluent in calming and grounding strategies.

Using sensory strategies, patients learn how to better interact with their environments. Therapists will help patients learn how to properly assess information, identify their senses, process their emotions, and self-regulate feelings of stress or anxiety. These types of sensory strategies are particularly beneficial for patients who do not benefit from talk therapy and require a more hands-on approach. Patients can then apply these grounding and calming strategies to any situation that troubles them.

Physical Well-Being

While mental health therapists focus solely on mental and emotional health, occupational therapists also focus on physical rehabilitation. Since mental health issues often co-exist with physical ailments, occupational therapy helps target the physical and emotional well-being of patients. The type of physical therapy a person receives depends on which physical difficulties they experience, but may include:

  • General muscle strengthening exercises
  • Wheelchair adjustments or training
  • Adaptive equipment
  • General movement or flexibility exercises
  • Balancing techniques
  • Pain-relieving therapies

Independent Living Strategies

The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is to assist patients in learning the skills necessary for independent living. For some, this may focus solely on physical and nutritional needs. For others, this may refer to targeted coping strategies and medication management. When a mental health condition begins to affect a person’s ability to live independently, it’s time to seek information about how an occupational therapist can help.

Discharge Preparation

As part of the evaluation process, occupational therapists help their clients develop an individualized discharge plan. This discharge plan is based on a patient’s treatment progress, goals, and individual needs. Since occupational therapy treats chronic conditions such as a physical disability or mental illness, aftercare is critical. Without a detailed aftercare plan, patients may lose the progress they made in treatment and fall back into old habits. Instead, occupational therapists have an array of assessments at their disposal to help their patients with discharge preparation.

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy Interventions

Occupational therapy uses a recovery model that acknowledges that recovery is a long-term process with the end-goal being full participation in daily life and community activities. Over the course of treatment, patients learn how to improve their overall health and wellness. Some proven benefits of occupational therapy include:[3]

  • Help individuals achieve optimal functioning in their daily lives
  • Provide patients with educational programs, social skills, stress management, and self-awareness
  • Facilitate the development of the skills needed for independent living
  • Provide training and education on daily living activities
  • Help patients find job placement and maintain successful at work
  • Help patients find and enjoy leisure activities

This type of therapy isn’t just for patients – it can also help friends and family members learn how to deal with the pressure and stress of caring for a loved one as well as how to lead productive lives themselves.

Finding an Occupational Therapist Near You

Although the origins of occupational therapy are in mental health, occupational therapists now provide services in a variety of different settings, including:

  • Mental health treatment centers
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Senior care centers
  • After-school programs
  • Workplaces
  • Psychosocial clubhouses
  • Homeless or women’s shelters
  • Hospitals and psychiatric care units
  • Community health centers

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the United States but only a small portion of those suffering actually get the help that they need. If you or a loved one is struggling, don’t suffer alone. Reach out today for help. Occupational therapies are extremely beneficial in helping people find happiness and success in their daily lives – and it can help you, too. Pick up the phone and contact us to get started on a better life.


  1. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy.aspx
  2. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-expect-from-a-mental-health-ot-2509980
  3. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/MH/Community-Mental-Health.aspx

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