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What Can an Occupational Therapist Do for You?

Syndicated from the Bipolar Blog

When you have bipolar disorder, you hear a lot about what a psychiatrist and psychotherapist can do for you, but you rarely hear about and may never even consider consulting an occupational therapist (OT). And why would you? OTs are trained to assist people with physical disabilities, right? People who are visually or hearing impaired, confined to wheel chairs, paralyzed, and so forth?

Not so says Laurel Cargill Radley, Associate Director of Professional Affairs for the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). According to Radley, AOTA and its members are well aware that mental illness, including depression and bipolar disorder, can be just as challenging. She points out that OTs can and do play a key role in helping individuals with mood disorders maintain mood stability and return to work and other activities. Specifically, an OT can do the following:

  • Evaluate your ability to work and take care of yourself.
  • Identify treatment goals that you find meaningful, such as establishing a personal care routine; managing money; returning to work; communicating effectively with family, caregivers, and co-workers; and setting realistic short-term and long-term goals.
  • Recommend reasonable workplace accommodations that enable you to return to work and accomplish essential job-related tasks.
  • Adapt activities and the environment so you can participate in tasks that are meaningful to you.
  • Monitor your response to the medication(s) used to treat your mood disorder.
  • Educate family members and caregivers about mood disorders, and collaborate with them on treatment goals.
  • Prevent relapse by helping you establish healthy routines and habits that manage stress, balance your roles and engage you in interests that support your needs.

Radley is careful to point out that the goal of occupational therapy is not restricted to helping individuals return to work. OTs are dedicated to reintegrating individuals into every aspect of their lives, including career, home, and community. Whether your goal is to return to work, more effectively manage your household, reestablish and maintain healthy relationships with family and friends, or increase your participation in and enjoyment of community and leisure activities, an OT can be a valuable ally.

In the following sections, Radley answers some frequently asked questions about seeking the assistance of an OT.

Will My Insurance Cover the Cost?

OT is covered by Medicare and most insurance policies; it is best to check on your benefits with your insurance company to make sure it is covered. You may need to have your OT provide documentation regarding your treatment beforehand – insurance companies often confuse mental health OT with physical rehab, but are generally receptive and responsive to learning about the role that OT can play in mental health.

Like other inpatient services, OT is built into the room rate for those settings; as with group therapy and other treatments, it is covered in post-hospital programs. Many private practices are private pay, but invoices include CPT and diagnostic codes so that claims may be processed by the recipient of the service.

How Do I Find a Qualified OT?

Check with your psychiatrist or psychotherapist first, as their recommendation can give you confidence that you will all work well together as a team. If your other providers do not have a recommendation, check with your local hospital or partial hospital program. If you still can’t locate a qualified OT, visit the AOTA website and select your state from the “State Association” drop-down list (on the lower right side of the opening page). You can then search for resources on your state’s AOTA website.

What If I Can’t Work? Will My OT Help Me File for Disability?

OTs are concerned with bringing out your abilities, and stress these instead of focusing on disabilities. However, OTs are also well versed in the disability application process. They can advise you on its benefits and drawbacks and assist you with finding materials for completing the application and answering any questions you may have.

For more information about occupational therapy and mental health, we encourage you to check out the AOTA Mental Health Page.

We would like to know what you think. If you’re an occupational therapist or a consumer who has used an occupational therapist, please share your experiences and insights.

What Can an Occupational Therapist Do for You?

Joe Kraynak

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APA Reference
Kraynak, J. (2008). What Can an Occupational Therapist Do for You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2008
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