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Understanding Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapists Support Mental Health

Occupational therapy has been used for over 100 years to help people live more independent lives. By helping patients to improve their skills and manage their day-to-day needs, occupational therapists give them the tools to live lives they find meaningful. 

During the first world war, healthcare providers realized that soldiers recovered more quickly and fully when they were engaged in leisure activities than through medical care alone. From this, occupational therapy was born. 

Not Just for Physical Health 

Many people think of occupational therapy as a tool to help people overcome physical disabilities, but they may not realize how much it can help in a behavioral health setting. At Palms Behavioral Health in Harlingen, Texas we offer occupational therapy as part of our wide array of services for patients with mental health concerns.

What Occupational Therapists Do

Occupational therapists can work in a number of different settings with people of all ages. Their focus is to help people participate meaningfully in education, play, leisure, work, and social settings. Some examples of work an occupational therapist might do are:

  • Teaching and helping patients practice skills for school, work, and free time
  • Teaching concentration and memory exercises
  • Helping a patient structure their daily routine
  • Modifying a person’s home or work setting
  • Giving advice or guidance to family members and other supports
  • Helping the person to reduce the need for future hospitalizations

How is Occupational Therapy Different from Physical Therapy?

Frequently, people confuse occupational therapy and physical therapy. A physical therapist is likely to focus on helping a person regain mobility or balance with stretches and exercises, while an occupational therapist will be more focused on how a particular deficit is impacting someone’s life and what modifications can be made to improve their quality of life. 

Why Occupational Therapists are Needed in Mental Health

There can sometimes be a gap between the mental health and medical spheres. Occupational therapists can bridge that gap by using their unique skills, capabilities, and perspectives to address the ways mental illness and substance use disorders impact daily living. Because occupational therapists aren’t medical providers or psychologists, they will see things from a different angle and suggest unique ideas for helping patients.

How Occupational Therapists Support Mental Health

When occupational therapists work within a mental health setting, they collaborate with other providers on their patient’s team to support the client’s goals for how they want to live their life. They may utilize several different approaches to make this happen:

  • Cognitive assessment – identifies barriers that are preventing the person from taking medication and doing activities that are important for them or to them.
  • Functional assessment – determines what specific steps are required to complete a task so that the patient can practice the entire process in small increments. 
  • Sensory profiling – customizes interventions to match the needs of the client and their environment.
  • Goal setting and skill development – develops goals and strategies based on the activities that are meaningful to the client.
  • Strategy training – teaches problem-solving and the skills required to navigate barriers.
  • Activity-based social skills and interventions – allows clients to practice improving their behaviors in social settings.

Outcomes Occupational Therapists Help to Achieve

Because occupational therapy is based on the needs and desires of each client, the ways an occupational therapist can help to improve their lives will vary, but might include things like:

  • Increased engagement in treatment
  • Improved follow-through with medication
  • Assisting with the transition between an institutional setting like a hospital and the client’s home
  • Veteran-specific services
  • Health and wellness promotion
  • Working with peer supports who are engaged in sharing their lived experiences to benefit patients

At Palms Behavioral Health, we take a whole-person approach to supporting our adolescent, adult and senior patients who are navigating mental health struggles. Occupational therapy is an evidence-based, holistic, person-centered profession that perfectly complements our comprehensive treatment strategy.

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