• Mental health occupational therapy aims to improve the quality of life for those with mental health conditions by enabling participation in meaningful daily activities.
  • Core principles include a client-centred approach, a holistic perspective, an occupational focus, and evidence-based practice.
  • Interventions involve training in self-care, cognitive skills, sensory integration, vocational rehabilitation, social skills, and environmental modifications.
  • Occupational therapy plays a crucial role in supporting self-sufficiency, well-being, and achievement of personal goals for those with mental health challenges.

Mental Health Occupational Therapy: Enhancing Well-being and Occupational Function

Mental health occupational therapy (OT) is a specialised branch of healthcare that focuses on improving the lives of individuals with mental health conditions by enabling them to engage in meaningful occupations. OT practitioners such as occupational health nurses work collaboratively with clients to identify and address challenges in performing daily tasks, enhancing their participation in self-care, work, leisure, and social activities.¹

Core Principles of Mental Health Occupational Therapy

Several core principles guide mental health OT:

  • Client-Centred Approach: OT practitioners prioritise the client’s unique needs, preferences, and goals, tailoring interventions to their individual circumstances.
  • Holistic Perspective: OT considers the interconnectedness of biological, psychological, and social factors that influence mental health and occupational performance.
  • Occupational Focus: OT addresses the challenges and opportunities individuals face in performing their daily occupations, promoting engagement in meaningful activities.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: OT practitioners utilise evidence-based interventions, employing strategies supported by research to maximise effectiveness.

Scope of Mental Health Occupational Therapy

OT interventions in mental health encompass a wide range of strategies,² including:

  • Self-Care Skills Training: Providing training and support for managing daily tasks such as personal hygiene, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Cognitive Remediation: Enhancing cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, and problem-solving to improve daily functioning.
  • Sensory Integration: Addressing sensory sensitivities or dysfunctions that interfere with occupational performance.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation: Assessing and supporting individuals in returning to work or finding suitable employment opportunities.
  • Social Skills Training: Developing interpersonal and communication skills to enhance social interactions and participation.
  • Environmental Modifications: Adapting the home, workplace, or community environment to reduce barriers and promote occupational engagement.

Case Study: Empowering an Individual with Anxiety

An OT practitioner was working with a client experiencing significant anxiety that impacted their ability to perform daily tasks and maintain social connections. Through a comprehensive assessment, the OT identified challenges with self-care, work performance, and social interactions.
The OT developed an individualised intervention plan that included:

  • Self-Care Management: Educate clients on anxiety management techniques, relaxation exercises, and sleep hygiene practices.
  • Gradual Exposure Therapy: Gradually exposing the client to anxiety-provoking situations, starting with less challenging tasks and gradually increasing exposure.
  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Providing CBT techniques to identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to anxiety.
  • Social Skills Training: Practicing social interaction techniques and identifying supportive social settings.
  • Workplace Accommodations: Collaborating with the client’s employer to implement modifications to the work environment to reduce anxiety triggers.

As a result of the OT intervention, the client experienced a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms, improved self-care routines, enhanced work performance, and increased social engagement.


Mental health occupational therapy plays a crucial role in empowering individuals with mental health conditions to regain control over their lives and engage meaningfully in their daily occupations. By addressing the challenges and opportunities individuals face in performing their daily tasks, OT promotes self-sufficiency, enhances well-being, and supports individuals in achieving their personal goals.

  1. About occupational therapy Royal College of Occupational Therapists [online] Available at: https://www.rcot.co.uk/about-occupational-therapy/what-is-occupational-therapy [Accessed 8 December 2023].
  2. Mental health – An area of high priority in occupational therapy [online] Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/reader/10.1177/03080226211037864 [Accessed 8 December 2023].

Speak to an Occupational Health professional today.

Article fact-checked and approved by Dr. Amun Kalia and Dr Deryk Waller