Meeting the Needs of Mental Health and Occupational Therapy
When AOTA leaders talk about being at the table, two recent high-profile meetings are what they have in mind. And it helps that the gatherings were focused on mental health, a practice area AOTA continues to advance.
“Whenever we are with external audiences, it’s a great opportunity to remind people that we need to continue to be at the table, especially in mental health because people often forget that we work in that area,” said Laurel Radley, MS, OTR/L, AOTA’s staff liaison to the Representative Assembly and Special Interest Sections. “They are usually very responsive to us, and they are almost always delighted to hear what we do and what we can offer.”
In the spirit of promoting occupational therapy’s role in mental health, AOTA’s President-Elect Virginia Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA; AOTA legislative representative Ralph Kohl; and Radley, recently met with the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Center for Mental Health Services, Paolo del Vecchio, and his staff.
“We discussed how occupational therapy is a perfect fit with the recovery movement because we are so client-centered and so asset-oriented in our approach,” Radley said. “We also talked about how well poised we are to help with primary care through our training in both the physical and mental health arenas and our ability to help with screening and education across all practice areas.”
AOTA gifted del Vecchio a copy of Stoffel’s mental health text, Occupational Therapy in Mental Health: A Vision for Participation.
“He and his staff were very interested in the fact that the book emphasizes recovery and recovery principles, and it very much embraces SAMHSA’s view on recovery,” Stoffel said. “All the words that SAMHSA uses are the kinds of words that OTs have always used. So I think he and his staff were excited to see that we had our major mental health text organized around similar ideas.”
Then, from December 4 to 5, Stoffel and Kohl attended a policy forum in Washington, D.C., at The College for Behavioral Health Leadership, where del Vecchio delivered a keynote address. The forum, called “Harnessing Community Support for Health and Well-Being,” brought together behavioral health leaders, members of the health policy community, and legislative staff to discuss the need for wider support of community engagement activities in behavioral health promotion.
The group is at the forefront of the health care reform process because mental health and substance abuse treatment are listed as essential health benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
Stoffel took away from the forum that the group is very interested in incorporating treatment values that occupational therapy can help make a reality.
“It was clear that other professions are finding everyday life and the ability to impact everyday life so important,” Stoffel said.
These meetings were just the latest in AOTA’s efforts to promote and advance occupational therapy’s critical role in mental health.
In November, Stoffel, Kohl, and AOTA member Margaret Swarbrick, PhD, OT, CPRP, FAOTA, attended the 28th Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, which focused on moving beyond stigma in mental health and advancing the inclusion of people with mental illness.
AOTA is also lobbying Congress to pass the Occupational Therapy Mental Health Act, which would add occupational therapists to the current list of “behavioral and mental health professionals” in the National Health Services Corps (NHSC), making them eligible to participate in the NHSC Scholarship and Loan Repayment Programs. AOTA President Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, was a critical driver behind the mental health act, and in March 2011, AOTA hosted a Congressional briefing on the bill.
For more on mental health and occupational therapy, visit the Mental Health section of AOTA’s Web site or participate in the OT Connections Mental Health Special Interest Section forum.
Andrew Waite is the associate editor of OT Practice. He can be reached at email@example.com.