Memorial Regional Health: MRH occupational therapists can help develop activity-based plans to help patients overcome mental health challenges |

Memorial Regional Health: MRH occupational therapists can help develop activity-based plans to help patients overcome mental health challenges

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
Tracy Perish, BA, MS, OTR/L, listens to a patient during a recent occupational therapy session at Memorial Regional Health.
Memorial Regional Health/courtesy
The following are examples of how the knowledge and skill base of occupational therapy is used in the process of assisting individuals in all phases of mental health recovery:
  • Teach and support the active use of coping strategies to help manage the effect of symptoms of illness on one’s life, including being more organized and able to engage in activities of choice
  • Help identify and implement healthy habits, rituals and routines to support a wellness lifestyle by addressing barriers and building on existing abilities
  • Support the identification of personal values, needs and goals to enable informed, realistic decision making, such as when considering housing and employment options
  • Support the creation and use of a wellness recovery action plan in group or individual sessions
  • Provide information to increase awareness of community-based resources, such as peer-facilitated groups and other support options
  • Provide information on how to monitor physical health concerns (e.g., diabetes management, smoking cessation), develop strategies to control chronic symptoms, and recognize and respond to acute changes in mental health status
  • Support the ability to engage in long-term planning (e.g., budget for major purchases, prepare advanced medical and mental health directives) that leads to meeting personal recovery goals

Source: American Occupational Therapy Association

People often think of occupational therapists as professionals who help patients with physical conditions, but did you know that mental health is one of the areas of care that occupational therapists treat regularly?

In the context of occupational therapy, occupations are defined as daily activities. This could mean anything from sleeping to brushing your teeth to exercising to cooking dinner. For patients with mild to severe mental health challenges, an occupational therapist can help form plans to overcome specific challenges.

“Occupational therapy helps you do something about your mental health situation,” said Tracy Perish, an occupational therapist at Memorial Regional Health, who is also certified as a qualified mental health professional. “The actual doing of occupations is what helps maintain positive mental health and prevents mental illness from occurring again.”

Because mental health challenges can often be lifelong — sometimes ebbing and flowing — it’s important to learn the tools for how to deal with these challenges as soon as patients recognize triggers. One of those tools is occupational therapy.

“OT mental health supports patients through all stages of their mental health journey,” Perish said. “It helps in preventing, maintaining and developing plans of what to do if and when a mental illness episode occurs.”

Occupational therapy is not talk therapy

Professional talk therapists — such as psychologists or psychiatrists — work with patients to identify and diagnose mental illnesses. They talk to patients about their life history and counsel them on ways to overcome certain mental health challenges. In the case of psychiatrists, they also prescribe medication as part of some treatment plans.

Occupational therapy is much different, in that the patient doesn’t need to talk through their past struggles to develop an OT treatment plan. Perish said occupational therapy is client-centered, focusing on what the patient can do. It’s not about what’s the matter with the patient; it’s about what matters to the patient, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association.

“Research from the field of positive psychology has further confirmed that participating in meaningful occupations that result in positive emotions helps build resilience and fuel mental well-being,” according to the association.

Perish said occupational therapists aren’t digging into a person’s past traumas to help them.

“If they don’t feel comfortable saying what happened, that’s OK,” she said. “We focus on what their strengths are and build off that.”

Empowering the patient

Mental health is a part of the human experience, Perish said. Everyone has mental health needs and concerns as a natural part of daily life.

“I want people to know they’re not alone,” Perish said. “Mental health is a part of all of us — it is normal to have ups and downs.”

Research shows that activity-based interventions involving play, leisure and recreation help improve children’s social interaction, self-esteem and positive feelings, and they reduce behavior problems, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association.

When mental health impacts daily activities for children or adults, that’s when it’s time to ask a doctor about options. Physicians can refer patients to occupational therapists, and they might refer a patient to see some kind of talk therapist, as well.

People who could benefit from these services include those suffering from anxiety, depression, stress related to parenting, finances, relationships, work or other issues and those with diagnosed mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Almost any mental health concern or diagnosis could benefit from occupational therapy.

“We capitalize on their strengths and determine what we need to do to modify their environment,” Perish said. “Basically, we help them develop a plan. We empower the patient.”



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