When I learned at the beginning of this semester that I would be working with people who have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and mental illness for my first fieldwork level I, I had a mild panic attack. Before beginning the program, I did not know that occupational therapists worked in mental health. Now, not only was I going to be working with a population I have never worked with before, but I would also be working at a place that didn’t have an occupational therapist on staff. I was nervous, and quite frankly a little afraid of what I would see and what I would be expected to do. I realize now, eight weeks later, why occupational therapy is so necessary in mental health.
The Pibly Residential Program in the Bronx helps individuals who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse problems learn how to be functioning members of society. Rosebud House, where I was placed, is a live-in program for these individuals. They are provided with a room, three meals a day, and group sessions that focus on preparing them to eventually live in independent or group settings in the community. During my time at Rosebud House, I helped run groups that addressed topics like money management, ways to recognize the triggers to relapse, and dreams for the future.
I ended this eight-week session with a strong sense of the important role occupational therapists play in the treatment of mental illness and an interest in mental health as an area of practice. I believe that this is an area where occupational therapists can make a huge impact on a population that desperately needs our services.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (2010), occupational therapy as a profession began in mental health after the deinstitutionalization of those with mental illnesses, in the early 20th century. It seems, however, that there has been a shift away from mental health practice in subsequent years, and I am saddened by the fact that the number of OTs working in this field today is dwindling. The World Health Organization believes that the leading cause of disability in the future will be mental illness and AOTA has responded to this prediction by emphasizing mental health treatment as part of its centennial vision. My hope is that with AOTA’s centennial vision, there will be an increase in research and the number of practitioners in this field.