Occupational therapists are a core part of the Australian mental health workforce. Occupational therapists work across the spectrum of mental illness, providing early intervention, prevention, and treatment services to people with mild, moderate and severe mental health conditions. They deliver services to people with relatively common conditions such as anxiety disorders, as well as more severe conditions which require targeted interventions, such as psychosis and trauma-related disorders.
Occupational mental health services are delivered across a wide range of settings, including in acute and rehabilitation primary care services, aged care, schools, private practice and government funded schemes such as NDIS and workers’ compensation. Occupational therapists are accredited to provide services under the Commonwealth Government’s Better Access to Mental Health initiative, with around 1,000 OTA members currently endorsed to work within this scheme.
Occupational therapists provide strengths-based, behavioural-oriented and goal-directed services to improve mental health and wellbeing, and help people access personally relevant and valued roles in life. OTs take a holistic, person-centred approach focussed on supporting an individual to function and experience enhanced wellbeing through participation in activities that are important to them.
Despite this important role, OTA members continue to report a lack of understanding and awareness of the role OT services can play in supporting mental wellbeing. OTA is focussed on raising awareness of the role of OTs in the mental health sector, and calling for increased visibility, funding and opportunities for mental health occupational therapists.
Thinking Ahead Mental Health Project
In 2022 OTA undertook an in-depth project to determine how to provide practical support for mental health occupational therapists and increase access to these vital services for mental health consumers. The response from members was that mental health OTs are under-recognised and under-utilised in Australia’s mental health system.
OTA engaged an external consultant to undertake extensive research, which included engagement with OTA members and mental health stakeholders.
Mental Health Strategy
OTA’s Mental Health Strategy was launched on 25 November 2022 at the Mental Health Forum, and will see OTA deliver a range of actions over two stages, focussed on these key areas:
- Workforce - Improved training to support the mental health OT workforce, and sustainable career pathways for occupational therapists working in this sector to support development and avoid burn-out.
- Awareness – Building awareness of occupational therapist mental health capability across health services, funding bodies, and consumers
- Advocacy – Engaging with government and sector stakeholders to advocate on the value of mental health occupational therapy services
Recent Advocacy on Mental Health
Medicare funding for OT mental health services
OTA is engaging with the Commonwealth Government to advocate for greater recognition of mental health occupational therapists and appropriate fee setting under the Medicare system. OTA is participating in a review of certain Medicare items and is pushing strongly to extend access to OT mental health services and increase the number of services that clients can access. We look forward to updating OTA members as this work progresses.
Ensuring OTs can provide EAP services
In 2022, OTA engaged with the Employment Assistance Professional Association of Australia (EAPAA) on behalf of members and achieved a good outcome with EAPAA accepting mental health occupational therapists who have appropriate experienced to apply for full EAPAA membership.
Those wishing to apply will need to be Better Access to Mental Health endorsed through OTA and have an individual statement of ongoing supervision in relation to Mental Health Work and Counselling
How You can Help
Contact OTA and tell us about a day in the life of an OT working in mental health. This will help us to tell the story of OTs in mental health to the broader community and increase awareness of how OTs can support those accessing mental health care services.
OTA welcomes other feedback about your experience of working in mental health.
Relevant Submissions and Correspondence
Thinking Ahead Mental Health Project Details
The future of occupational therapy and mental health in Australia
The Thinking Ahead: Mental Health project was established to ensure OTA is supporting mental health occupational therapists effectively.
Occupational therapists are a critical part of the Australian mental health workforce. Mental health interventions are at the core of occupational therapy practice and occupational therapists work across all areas of our mental health system. Whether working individually or as part of multidisciplinary teams, occupational therapists provide a unique lens and a toolkit of highly effective, profession-specific skills that help people with mental illness to achieve outcomes and engage in meaningful occupations.
Despite this, the role of occupational therapists in mental health care remains poorly understood. Governments and other funders have at different times failed to include the profession when designing funding programs, and referrers too often preference the more dominant mental health professions. Occupational therapists may also experience barriers to utilising their unique skills and working to their full scope of practice in mental health settings.
To address these issues, OTA commenced this major project to re-position the profession as a key part of the contemporary mental health system and to significantly expand OTA’s capacity to support and advocate for occupational therapists working in mental health.
The project has involved extensive consultation with members and other stakeholders, as well as research and engagement with government. With Phase 2 activities now complete, a range of internally and externally focused outcomes have been identified, each of which will be supported by a series of actions and activities that OTA will undertake over the next 18 months.
What we’re doing
OTA is working with the profession to understand and address the issues that most impact occupational therapists working in mental health and where the organisation can undertake work to address issues and improve access to mental health occupational therapy.
The project covers three related but different areas of focus:
- Advocacy and research: Identifying the key issues impacting clinicians working in all areas of mental health practice as the foundation for the development of a comprehensive strategic advocacy plan and associated resources, including a focus on research opportunities.
- Clinical and community practice: Identifying and defining occupational therapy clinical and community practice in the context of mental health and building the infrastructure to support clinicians to build competency and undertake professional development.
Communications: Development of communications strategy and resources focused on improving consumer and referrer understanding of occupational therapy mental health roles.
Current activities are now focusing on communications-focused work and the development of resources to support improved understanding and recognition of the mental health occupational therapy role.
Consulting with the profession?
OTA is committed to ensuring that the output of this project is built on the expert knowledge and input of occupational therapists working in mental health. The project has involved extensive engagement with member and non-member occupational therapists across a broad range of mental health settings. Listed below are the consultation activities that have been undertaken. Short summaries of the findings of the workshops are included for reference. We thank each and every occupational therapist that has taken the time to contribute to workshops, participated in one-on-one discussions, provided written input, or responded to the survey.
Deep dive clinical and community practice workshops
To support the survey findings and the project, OTA undertook a series of deep dive workshops, focused on understanding the different capabilities and areas of expertise required by mental health OTs at different stages of their career and in different mental health settings. This included consideration of the role of supervision and mentoring, identifying specific assessment tools and techniques (including generic and OT-specific approaches) used in different settings, identifying the different roles OTs may have, and considering how OT mental health practice can be articulated and promoted.
The workshops are listed below along with a summary of the discussions:
- Workshop 1: Tertiary community mental health
Thursday, 2nd December, 2021.
- Workshop 2: NDIS psychosocial supports
Tuesday, 7th December, 2021
- Workshop 3: Private practice – Adult mental health services
Wednesday, 8th December, 2021
- Workshop 4: Private practice – Mental health services for children and families. Wednesday, 9th December, 2021
- Workshop 5: Tertiary in-patient and forensic mental health
Tuesday, 14th December, 2021
- Workshop 6: Non-government and Primary Health Network (PHN) mental health
Wednesday 15th December, 2021
If you are interested in participating in any of these workshops, please send a short email to firstname.lastname@example.org expressing your interest by Friday, November 26. When responding, please indicate the state or territory you are based in and which of the following categories applies to you. Our goal is to ensure broad coverage across Australia and across these categories:
- Senior mental health OT practitioner (4-10 years of experience)
- Junior mental health OT practitioners (0-2 years of experience)
- Senior manager or educator (non-clinical) for public mental health settings
- Business owners or senior staff with education and training roles in private practices and NDIS provider organisations
- University educators/ academics
Mental Health Workforce Survey
To support the findings of the individual workshops and other consultation activities, OTA developed and distributed a workforce survey focused on helping the organisation gather information across a number of key areas including workforce demographics, mental health occupational therapy practice, and training and development. The response to the survey was incredibly positive with almost a thousand occupational therapists from across Australia taking the time to provide responses.
The survey has now closed and the responses have been collated in order to inform the findings and recommendations of the project and to support the next round of mental health-focused activities.
Mental Health Advocacy workshop overview and findings
The first round of advocacy-focused consultation workshops are now complete. The list of workshops below has now be updated to include a copy of the briefing paper provided to participants and a high-level summary of the discussions. We encourage you to review these documents and to consider whether you might want to provide any feedback or input.
Workshop 1: Private Medicare- and DVA-funded mental health services
Wednesday 29th September, 2021
Workshop 2: NDIS-funded mental health services and services for people with psychosocial disability
Thursday 30th September, 2021
Workshop 3: Hospital-based mental health services including in- and out-patient mental health programs
Friday 1st October, 2021
Workshop 4: Community mental health services
Wednesday 6th October, 2021
Workshop 5: Mental health services for children and young people
Thursday 7th October, 2021
Workshop 5b: Mental health services for children and young people
Thursday 7th October, 2021
Workshop 6: Aged care mental health services
Friday 8th October, 2021
Workshop 7: Mental health services funded under worker and accident compensation schemes
Tuesday 12th October, 2021
The Thinking Ahead: Mental Health project is being overseen by an Expert Advisory Group (EAG), which provides expert advice and guidance. The EAG comprises a highly experienced group of occupational therapists from across the public, community, non-government, academic and private sectors. The group is supported by input from consumer members.
The membership of that group is as follows:
- Adam Lo, CLCE Coordinator, Metro South Health and OTA Board member
- Dr Priscilla Ennals, Senior Manager Research and Evaluation, NEAMI National and OTA Board member
- Adam Finkelstein, Private Mental Health OT, In Dialogue and Complex Psychology
- Dr Carolynne White, Participation and Engagement Advisor, Mind Australia
- Assoc Prof Genevieve Pepin, Discipline Lead Occupational Science and Therapy, Deakin University
- Michael Barrett, General Manager of Policy and Government Relations, OTA (Chair)
- Michelle Oliver, SA and NT Divisional Manager, OTA
- Phoebe Williamson, Statewide Mental Health Occupational Therapy Educator, Centre for Mental Health Learning Victoria
- Julie Dempsey OAM, Senior Consumer Consultant, Forensicare
- Dr Leanne Beagley, CEO, Mental Health Australia
- Dave Peters, Co-Chair and Lived Experience Ambassador, Equally Well Australia
OTA will continue to provide regular updates about the project on this webpage and through OTA communications channels.