How can I benefit from OT?

Occupational Therapy & Mental Health

People experience life to the fullest through the activities they find most meaningful – at work, in school, in their homes, and in their communities. Our activities influence our mental health in profound ways. For some, our mental health prevents us from doing what we find most meaningful, causing engagement, resulting in low mood, boredom, and disconnection from others. Sometimes our activities are out of balance, and we’re doing too much of one thing and not enough of another, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. Some mental health conditions can disrupt our ability to cope, maintain our daily routines, or perform at work.

Occupational therapists can help!

In any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness or substance use problem, and one in three will develop a mental illness or mental health issue sometime in their lifetime. The symptoms of mental illness can have a serious impact on the ability to function and participate in the activities and routines that support our well-being. Occupational therapists are skilled in helping individuals disrupted by mental illness return to routines and functions that allow them to participate in the activities that are most meaningful. Occupational therapists have been working in mental health for over 100 years with individuals living with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, and dementia. 

What do OTs do?

Occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages whose lives have been mildly to severely disrupted by mental health issues, mental illness and substance use challenges by taking a functional perspective. The kinds of things that occupational therapists do to help individuals who live with mental health issues/ illness include:

  1. Finding ways to function and participate in meaningful activities even when the symptoms of mental illness are present
  2. Developing routines and positive habits that support mental well-being
  3. Identifying effective strategies to manage daily stress, work – life balance and develop resiliency 
  4. Developing a positive sense of self, self-efficacy and confidence in daily activities, relationships and work
  5. Use their skills of occupational analysis to bridge the gap between the person’s abilities and the behavioural, cognitive, emotional, social, and physical demands of a job within the contextual environment of work. 
  6. Facilitate the transition from worker readiness (at home/community), re-integration (work), to re-establishing resilience and sustainability at work.

Occupational therapists use individual and group therapy approaches to deliver counselling, psychotherapy, and other approaches in health care settings, the community, home, workplace or school. By using these approaches, your occupational therapist will help maintain or resume the day-to-day activities and relationships that are important to you. Occupational therapists may also work for third-party payers in a variety of roles to assist individuals return or stay at work such as prevention, direct intervention and treatment, disability management, care coordination, and/or consultation. Occupational therapists work with individuals, teams, and groups, focusing on the interaction between individuals, environments, and the requirements of the job.

There are many things you’ll see occupational therapists do to support you in a health care setting, home, community or workplace. They will: 

  • Develop coping strategies such as breathing exercises, and mindfulness techniques to help relaxation, improve concentration and attention span.
  • Help individuals set goals and establish priorities that contribute to positive mental health and well-being.
  • Foster a renewed sense of confidence by breaking down activities into manageable steps. Identify solutions to narrow the gaps between what one can do and wants to do.
  • Find opportunities for connection and belonging with others.
  • Work to better understand the impact of mental illness.
  • Facilitate an understanding of diagnosis and symptoms, and integrating self-management strategies in daily life including at work/school, leisure, and social activities.
  • Assess skills, interests, values, and strengths in order to help individuals maintain, modify or find appropriate employment.
  • Implement activities that teach valuable skills e.g. social skills training to be more effective in relationships with others.
  • Help structure and organize daily activities so that individuals can balance everything they want, need or are expected to do.
  • Develop work focused skills and strategies to optimize functional abilities of the individual within the workplace such as managing stigma at the workplace or work social re-integration.
  • Provide work simulation, cognitive work hardening or driver rehabilitation treatments.

Mental Health for Kids

COVID had a negative impact on children and teens. It disrupted their learning, including their social skills development. Schools have limited resources to help get them the support they need to move forward.

When your child is anxious, having trouble making or keeping friends, or has mental health concerns, there is a wait list to get access to school support. Occupational Therapists, or OTs, have strategies and activities that can have a positive impact. We work with kids, parents, and even teachers to quickly assess and build a plan to get them back on track. Find an OT in your area today.

Occupational therapists in return to work and stay at work

Occupational therapists with a mental health and work-centred focus use functional assessment and restoration to maximize strengths and enable function within the contextual physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioural, or social challenges. This strength-based approach builds resilience and capabilities.

Treatment may aim to: 

  • Practical applications of therapeutic strategies in daily activities to build skills for return to work or support stay at work activities.

  • Facilitate an understanding of diagnosis and symptoms.  

  • Integrate self-management strategies. 

    • Develop work focused skills and strategies to optimize functional abilities of the individual within the workplace, such as managing stigmatization.

    • Provide work simulation, cognitive work hardening or driver rehabilitation treatments.

Occupational therapists practice psychotherapy 

Occupational therapists may include psychotherapeutic approaches selected with the client to best address their needs. In fact, OTs are one of five regulated health professions regulated able to provide the controlled act of psychotherapy in Ontario. Occupational therapists are also psychotherapists when they have completed post-graduate training in psychotherapy approaches. 

All psychotherapists have specific approaches they use based on their training and expertise including cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy to name a few. You’ll find that psychotherapy practised by occupational therapists is often delivered with a focus on helping an individual develop skills and strategies to get back to managing their day to day activities and being able to engage in activities that they find meaningful.