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Mental Health in Occupational Therapy: An Overview

Mental Health in Occupational Therapy: An Overview
Elizabeth Cara, Ph.D., OTR/L, MFC
March 3, 2016


During this course, we will discuss the differentiation between psychosocial occupational therapy versus psychiatric occupational therapy. When OTs speak about psychosocial occupational therapy, sometimes they are referring to their intervention, and at other times, they are talking about working with people who have psychiatric problems or psychiatric disorders. This causes some role-blurring. Some general confusion exists about what occupation therapists do in the field of mental health. Today, we will discuss and analyze OT roles in in mental health and how psychiatric conditions are different from other conditions that most people work with.
For this presentation, I will be borrowing information from the International Classification of Disorders (ICD). I will also be using definitions found in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5). I will also talk about the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework (OTPF), definitions and explanations. The ICD and DSM are used most often in mental health settings and the OTPF borrowed from them to define our practice. 
I will explain the contemporary state of occupational therapy and mental health, and discuss evaluations and assessments that could be used in all settings. Particularly, I will highlight three that I believe would be the most useful in psychiatric occupational therapy, to assess functioning and help define treatment. 
Finally, I am going to briefly highlight some upcoming topics to be presented during the week. As you can see, Dr. Anne MacRae will present on mental health service delivery within a recovery perspective. We will learn about mental health of children from William Lambert, mental health of adolescents by Michelle Burlyga, and mental health of older adults with Jane Dressler. 

Definitions – Psychiatric vs. Psychosocial

When I have been in meetings of any kind (e.g., administrative, planning, faculty, workshops or presentations, local, statewide, national), inevitably, there is a discussion to lament the state of mental health occupational therapy and how our field is somehow losing ground and position in mental health. Most people are aware of the low percentage of us who work in psychiatric settings. I began to notice when discussing psychiatric mental health settings, that OTs I have talked to work with primarily psychiatric disorders and conditions. There is often confusion about the primary condition (the psychiatric condition) vs. psychosocial interventions and treatment. 

elizabeth cara

Elizabeth Cara, Ph.D., OTR/L, MFC

Dr. Liz Cara currently has close to 45 years of experience working in all areas of mental health and with clients in every age group from infancy to older age. She has developed innovative programs in mental health and coordinates occupational therapy programs with community partners in addition to being on advisory boards for mental health organizations. She has taught a variety of courses including mental health and community practice, group intervention, fieldwork, activities, evidence-based practice, introduction to research, education in occupational therapy, advanced research and research thesis/project courses using both online and in-person technology. She has presented research, workshops, seminars in local, state, national and international conferences. She is the editor and author with Dr. Anne Macrae of the popular textbook, in its fourth edition, Psychosocial Occupational Therapy: An Evolving Practice. She has presented papers written from a psycho biographical perspective on the artist Georgia Okeeffe and the occupational therapist and primatologist, Dian Fossey.

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