Mental Health and Occupational Therapy
The field of occupational therapy is often misunderstood and many are unaware of our scope of practice or areas that we address. Occupational therapy actually started in the area of mental health in which we provided therapeutic activities or meaningful occupations for adults struggling with a variety of mental illnesses. Mental health has changed dramatically within our society and many OT’s no longer work in this setting.
How Mental Health Relates To OT
“Mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. This definition affirms the view that mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness but also the presence of something positive.” (www.everymomentcounts.org, 2014) As an OT who works with kids, this is something I try to remember and incorporate within my treatment sessions. In our sessions, I hope to develop a bond, an environment of acceptance, and a sense of trust with my students and clients. Emotions are often shared as activities are completed and I gain an understanding of my student’s sense of self.
The children I see and work with are often receiving therapy because of something that is very challenging for them, such as writing, tying their shoes, cutting, etc. Feelings of frustration and failure often reveal themselves in our time together. I spend much time motivating and developing self-confidence needed to be more independent in tasks such as these. Oftentimes, they are so used to hearing “you can’t do that” that they truly start to believe that and give up trying. Words can be very powerful both in a negative and positive way.
I became involved with and passionate about this area of practice in a project entitled “Every Moment Counts.” It is a mental health promotion initiative developed by Occupational Therapists that is carried out in school systems and after-school programs. Its aim is to empower school staff and professionals to be aware of the issue of mental health and teach strategies to address it. It is also a resource for families and professionals for both families and professionals who are interested in learning more and incorporating mental health within their practice.
Poor mental health or sense of self is something that is not observable, but can greatly impact a child’s daily life. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, please discuss this with your therapist so that he/she may be aware of these needs and assist them in developing a more positive sense of self and well-being.