Psychotherapy What to Expect From a Mental Health Occupational Therapist By Sarah Lyon, OTR/L Sarah Lyon, OTR/L LinkedIn Twitter Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, is a board-certified occupational therapist and founder of OT Potential. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 10, 2020 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Shereen Lehman, MS Fact checked by Shereen Lehman, MS Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig). Learn about our editorial process Print Martin Barraud / Getty Images Many people associate occupational therapy with pediatric services or physical rehabilitation. They are surprised to find occupational therapists also working in mental health settings. If you or a loved one is seeing a mental health OT, learning about their role can help you advocate for the best care. The History of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health Occupational therapy has its origins in mental health. At one point, the majority of OTs worked in mental health settings. In the past decade, the number of OTs in the United States working in mental health has dropped. (You were right to associate OT with physical rehab and pediatrics.) However, new shifts in mental health care delivery may be opening the door for more OTs to re-enter this field. What OTs Bring to the Mental Health Treatment Team The training of an OT requires holistic approaches well suited for work in mental health settings. In addition to their training in physical well-being, occupational therapists are also trained in: Cognitive assessmentSensory strategiesTherapeutic alliancesGroup processParticipation in activities of daily learning (ADLs)Socio-emotional skills As in other OT settings, the ultimate focus of occupational therapy is to assist clients in participating in daily activities as independently as possible. Interventions Mental Health OTs Provide Here is a snapshot of common mental health OT interventions: Lead Groups Occupational therapists are trained in the group process. Examples of groups led by an occupational therapist may include: Life skillsJob readinessTherapeutic cookingMoney managementWellness recovery action plans (WRAP)Therapeutic leisureNutritionSensory groupsIndependent living Provide Calming and Grounding Strategies Occupational therapists believe that participation in daily activities (aka occupations) is vital to mental health and well-being. Your occupational therapist may help you utilize familiar activities as coping mechanisms, such as listening to music, playing cards, writing, doodling, cooking, or cleaning. OTs are also fluent in sensory strategies. A person’s sensory system helps process information from the environment. For individuals with mental health conditions, their ability to process this information may be compromised, which can lead to feeling agitated and unsafe. Sensory strategies activate an individual’s basic processing systems (vestibular, proprioceptive, deep pressure touch) to aid in processing information, helping individuals feel grounded and calm. Sensory strategies may prove effective for people who may not be at a state to benefit from talk therapies. Sensory Rooms OTs are part of a larger movement to create sensory rooms on mental health units. Sensory rooms are places where individuals can go to feel safe. The rooms often have tools to help de-escalate and relax. The use of this simple concept has helped drop seclusion and restraint levels dramatically on some units. Assess Discharge Preparedness OTs have a battery of assessments that they can use to assess discharge preparedness in a standardized way. This information can help your treatment team understand what amount of care you will need at discharge and gauge your treatment progress. Address Physical Wellbeing One important qualification that sets occupational therapists apart from other qualified mental health professionals is their background in physical rehabilitation. Mental health issues are often overlaid with issues of physical health. In a mental health setting, you may find an OT addressing general strengthening, adjusting wheelchairs, recommending adaptive equipment, or any other task that is within the scope of occupational therapy. What Is Comorbidity? Advocate for Safe Independence Ultimately, your OT will seek to assist you in participating in daily activities. If your mental health condition is compromising your ability to participate in daily activities, speak to your occupational therapist about your concerns. If they do not have the tools to assure that your needs are being met, they can serve as an advocate and assist in getting you the necessary help. Specializations in Mental Health Many OTs are competent in trauma-informed care and the recovery model, either through their schooling, workplace training or independent study. Some OTs go on to earn the certification of Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP). 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Occupational Therapy Association. Occupational therapy's role in community mental health. American Occupational Therapy Association. About occupational therapy. Additional Reading Stoffel VC. Opportunities for occupational therapy behavioral health: a call to action. Am J Occup Ther. 2013;67(2):140-5. doi:10.5014/ajot.2013.672001 By Sarah Lyon, OTR/L Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, is a board-certified occupational therapist and founder of OT Potential. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.