April is Occupational Therapy Month and we’re excited to share what the role of Occupational Therapy looks like in mental health. In June of 2021, PrairieCare Medical Group Southern MN welcomed Occupational Therapy into their practice with Rebekah Camacho, MS, OTR/L joining the Rochester site and Jessica Villery, OTD, OTR/L joining the Mankato site. Since then, PrairieCare has implemented Occupational Therapy across the entire organization and in our metro sites as a service provided in our programming.
How Occupational Therapy Can Help
Occupational Therapy is a profession that helps people across their lifespan do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). When using the word “occupation,” we mean it in the sense of how you occupy your time. Occupational Therapists (OTs) enable people of all ages to live life to the fullest by helping them promote health, prevent (or live better with) injury, illness, or disability. OTs are trained to evaluate all the components of activity performance and determine how they interact together and impact a person. For example, when looking at a person’s abilities to engage in their daily activities, OTs will determine whether a person’s body structure, motor skills, social-emotional skills, cognitive skills, sensory processing abilities, the influence from their environment (home, school, work, or community), habits, routines, and roles influence their functional participation.
The Role of Our OT Physicians
Both Rebekah and Jess have been involved in the Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), providing services through groups as well as individual treatment. OTs working in mental health with children use interventions that will promote age-appropriate life skills, promote social-emotional learning, bullying prevention and friendship promotion, teach skills to regulate overactive and underactive sensory systems, and explore leisure/play activities. The primary occupation for all children is to play, as so many skills are learned and refined during play, as well as providing an outlet for enjoyment and assisting to manage stress. Creating routines and structure are areas OTs can serve as experts to assist clients and families in strategies to implement these changes into their lives. We also work in collaboration with the children’s providers, therapists, teachers, and families to educate and advocate for clients to receive the support they need while in programming and following their time in the PHP setting.
We’ve started to work with adults as well as PrairieCare continues to grow in the services we provide. Adult programming includes multiple groups a week addressing social skills, life skills, and emotions/coping skills. Adults are even encouraged to learn how to play again because fun and leisure is not just for kids!
Rebekah and Jess also support building a proactive environment across PHP settings including use of sensory strategies, de-escalation, environmental adaptations, visual supports, and collaborating with staff on the floor to create an environment that supports patients and staff for more successful outcomes.
“The addition of integrated OT services to our PHPs has had an incredibly positive impact on the care we provide. It is a natural fit to consider OT expertise as a critical component of the evaluation and management of child, adolescent, and adult mental illness” said Dr. Chad Puffer, Medical Director of Child/Adolescent Services for PrairieCare Southern MN. Dr. Puffer added, “After all, our primary goal is to remove the barriers that disrupt a person’s typical healthy growth, development, or functioning. In this pursuit, we have long known that attempts to separate a person’s mental health from their physical health are reductive and misguided. Our fantastic OT staff help to bridge the gap between our patients’ mental and physical health, resulting in the highest quality care for the whole person. So glad to have them!”