Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy in Mental Health for Seniors


Do you or someone you know struggle with mental health issues and would like to improve your quality of life?


Seeing an occupational therapist may be what you are looking for.


What is Occupational Therapy?


“Occupational Therapy is a profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation.  The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life.  Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment.”

(Source: World Federation of Occupational Therapy website


So what is occupation?


“ Occupation refers to groups of activities and tasks of everyday life, named, organized and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture.  Occupation is everything people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves (self-care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities (productivity).”

(Source: Canadian Association of Occupational therapists, 1997)


Who would benefit from seeing and occupational therapist?


Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and from all walks of life who, because of illness, accident or circumstance are unable to participate fully in their chosen occupations.


This includes people who experience emotional distress or mental illness.  Examples may be anxiety, stress, depression, trauma, grief and loss, psychotic illnesses, mood disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, dementia, family or peer relationship problems, learning and adjustment difficulties.


Where do mental health occupational therapists work?


In public and private hospitals, clinics and community centres.  They also work in employment and in private practice. Private consultations can be self-funded or, when eligible, funded via insurance and/or compensable schemes such as the TAC and DVA.  Occupational therapy consultations can often be facilitated via a referral from your doctor or by contacting an occupational therapist directly.





Sylvia Hicks


  • Diploma Occupational Therapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) trained
  • Solution Focused Brief Therapy trained
  • Trained in Supported Decision Making
  • Training in understanding Complicated Grief
  • Experience working with clients with complex needs and co-morbidities such as dementia
  • Trained in relaxation techniques
  • Medicare registered


After 10 ½ years providing clinical management for a specialist mental health team for those people over 65, Sylvia now has a private practice as a sole practitioner to further this work.


When to refer?

An individual may be suitable for mental health occupational therapy services if they show signs of, or report any of the following:


  • Avoidance of social contact
  • Disinterest in managing their self care
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Adjustment issues
  • Feelings of inadequacy, failure and loss of respect
  • Apathy towards engaging in usual activities
  • Disorganization
  • An inability to function within their environment
  • Poor coping skills with ordinary occupations
  • Insomnia or reliance on alcohol or medications to sleep



As an occupational therapist, Sylvia will aim to identify an individual’s strengths and any barriers to their functioning to enable individuals to achieve and maintain an optimum level of independence, activity and participation.  Sylvia will work collaboratively to develop strategies to assist clients to overcome practical challenges. At all times, the focus is on activities that are meaningful to the client.



  • Mental Health status

o   Mental State Examination

o   Depression and Anxiety Scale

o   Cognitive assessment

o   History of illness to date and treatments


  • Function

o   Habits and routines

o   Roles, values, interests

o   Environment

o   Attitudes, motivation

o   ADL

o   Family and relationships


Identification of barriers:

For example:

  • Mobility and vision – may contribute to fear of falling and social isolation.
  • Speech or other communication difficulties
  • Pain
  • Unmet personal care needs
  • Lack of independence due to such things as cutlery needs
  • Lack of mental or sensory stimulation
  • Lack of support to make decisions
  • Social isolation



For example:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Routines, goal setting, graded activities
  • Meaningful occupations
  • Adaptive equipment
  • Relaxation techniques

An emphasis is placed on engagement in meaningful and purposeful activities as these contribute to a person regaining a sense of achievement, self-esteem and wellbeing that may have been affected by their illness.


Better Access to Mental Health Services

For those people with a Mental Health Care Plan from their GP, bulk billing may apply.

For people who are unable to attend a clinic, home visits can be arranged, both in private homes or aged care facilities.



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