Thinking Ahead: Mental Health

Thinking Ahead: The future of occupational therapy and mental health in Australia

Occupational therapists are a critical part of the Australian mental health workforce. Mental health interventions are at the core of occupational therapy practice and have been from the profession’s earliest days. Occupational therapists work across our mental health system, frequently supporting those with the most complex needs. 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.  

However, 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 continue to preference the more dominant mental health professions. Where occupational therapists are working in mental health roles, these may limit opportunities to utilise their full scope of practice and unique clinical skills. 

Given these issues, and the opportunities offered by the current environment of mental health reform, OTA is undertaking a mental health-focused project that will seek to position the profession as a key part of the contemporary mental health system and OTA as a critical voice. 

What we’re doing 

A crucial foundation for the work that OTA will undertake is ensuring that we have a strong understanding of the diverse nature of occupational therapy practice in the context of mental health. We’ll be working hand in hand with the profession to identify where and how occupational therapists are working and the key factors that help or hamper their work.  

Through this project, OTA will be seeking to understand and address these issues, resulting in the development of a paper and a range of associated outputs to support us in better supporting you.  

The project covers three related but different areas of focus: 

  1. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  1. Communications: Development of communications strategy and resources focused on improving consumer and referrer understanding of occupational therapy mental health roles.  

How can you be involved? 

OTA is committed to ensuring that the output of this project is built on the expert knowledge and input of occupational therapists. As such, there will be a series of opportunities for clinicians to contribute to this process. There are several ways in which that will be facilitated: 

  • A series of focused workshops will be run at different times during the project, seeking input from those with relevant experience. OTA will advertise those workshops on this page and clinicians will be encouraged to express interest in participating.  

  • OTA will circulate a survey to the profession to provide an opportunity for any occupational therapist to respond and provide input into the project.  

  • OTA will seek targeted input from clinicians with specific subject matter expertise. 

  • The project will be overseen by an Expert Advisory Group of clinicians with consumer representation.  

Upcoming consultations 

Listed below are a series of consultation workshops, including workshop times, dates and focus area. We encourage you to register interest in any workshops covering your area of practice. To participate in workshops, please send a short email to along with a very description of your relevant work history or experience. All workshops will be held virtually.  

  • Workshop 1: Private Medicare- and DVA-funded mental health services 
    Wednesday 29th September, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will focus on issues and opportunities around private services provided primarily under Medicare and DVA for all age groups, including the Better Access and Eating Disorders programs and the DVA Treatment Cycle Initiative. The workshop will also provide opportunities to consider the potential role of private health insurance. Please note that additional workshops will focus specifically on children and young people, and older people.

  • Workshop 2: NDIS-funded mental health services and services for people with psychosocial disability  
    Thursday 30th September, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will focus on understanding the more complex nature of mental health in the context of psychosocial disability, the potential differences between clinical services and those focused on the functional impact of psychosocial disability, as well as the challenges of accessing the scheme for participants and working within the scheme for occupational therapists.

  • Workshop 3: Hospital-based mental health services including in- and out-patient mental health programs  
    Friday 1st October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will cover the role of occupational therapists in hospital-based mental health services, both public and private. It will also consider the role of private health insurance funding for mental health services and the potential role of out-of-hospital mental health services funded by private health insurers.

  • Workshop 4: Community mental health services  
    Wednesday 6th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will focus on services including state- and territory-programs such as community mental health services, forensic mental health programs, and programs provided by NGOs under PHN funding. It will also provide opportunities to discuss the role of early intervention and digital services such as Head to Health.

  • Workshop 5: Mental health services for children and young people  
    Thursday 7th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will cover a range of funding schemes and settings, including Medicare Better Access and Eating Disorders program, education-based supports provided in or around schools, and schemes that might be funded through PHNs or state programs such as Headspace and CAMHS/YMHS. It will also provide opportunities to discuss the role and delivery of family therapy.

  • Workshop 6: Aged care mental health services 
    Friday 8th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will cover the delivery of mental health services for older people in community and residential settings provided under both aged care and Medicare funding. It will also review the intersection with dementia and behaviour management supports.

  • Workshop 7: Mental health services funded under worker and accident compensation schemes 
    Tuesday 12th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    This workshop will cover the delivery of mental health services under state and territory worker and accident compensation schemes, including a focus on opportunities to expand access to funding for occupational therapists.

Project governance 

The OTA Board will formally sign off the Thinking Ahead Mental Health Project. The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) will provide ongoing governance 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 a consumer representative. 

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 

  • 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 

  • Consumer representative – To be confirmed 

OTA will provide updates about project progress via this webpage and through OTA communications channels. 

Getting in touch 

Do you have a question about the project? Are you seeking to provide input? Please send any questions to

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