Thinking Ahead: Mental Health

The future of occupational therapy and mental health in Australia

Occupational therapists are a critical part of the Australian mental health workforce. Mental health interventions are at the core of occupational therapy practice and occupational therapists work across our mental health system. Whether working individually or as part of multidisciplinary teams, occupational therapists provide a unique lens and a toolkit of highly effective, profession-specific skills that help people with mental illness to achieve outcomes and engage in meaningful occupations.  

Despite this, the role of occupational therapists in mental health care remains poorly understood. Governments and other funders have at different times failed to include the profession when designing funding programs, and referrers too often preference the more dominant mental health professions. Occupational therapists may also experience barriers to utilising their unique skills and working to their full scope of practice in mental health settings. 

To address these issues, OTA has commenced a major project that seeks to re-position the profession as a key part of the contemporary mental health system and to significantly expand OTA’s capacity to support and advocate for occupational therapists working in mental health. 

What we’re doing 

OTA will be seeking to understand and address the issues that most impact members and the areas where new programs of work may be required.

The project covers three related but different areas of focus: 

  1. Advocacy and research: Identifying the key issues impacting clinicians working in all areas of mental health practice as the foundation for the development of a comprehensive strategic advocacy plan and associated resources, including a focus on research opportunities. 
  2. Clinical and community practice: Identifying and defining occupational therapy clinical and community practice in the context of mental health and building the infrastructure to support clinicians to build competency and undertake professional development. 
  3. Communications: Development of communications strategy and resources focused on improving consumer and referrer understanding of occupational therapy mental health roles.  

How can you be involved? 

OTA is committed to ensuring that the output of this project is built on the expert knowledge and input of occupational therapists.

Deep dive clinical and community practice workshops

To support the survey findings and the project, OTA is shortly commencing a series of deep dive workshops, which will focus on the various competencies and areas of expertise required by mental health OTs at different stages of their career and in different mental health settings. This will include consideration of the role of supervision and mentoring, identifying specific assessment tools and techniques (including generic and OT-specific approaches) used in different settings, identifying the different roles OTs may have, and considering how OT mental health practice can be articulated and promoted.

The workshops topics and times are listed below:

  1. Thursday, 2nd December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. Tertiary community mental health
  2. Tuesday, 7th December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. NDIS psychosocial supports 
  3. Wednesday, 8th December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. Private practice – youth and adult (incorporating - Medicare/DVA/Private income or health insurance/Workcover/private payments)
  4. Wednesday, 9th December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. Private practice – kids/family (including conditions mental health conditions, ASD and related behavioural issues).
  5.  Tuesday, 14th December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. Tertiary in-patient mental health (Also incorporating forensic mental health)
  6. Wednesday 15th December. 10am-12:00pm AEDT. Non-government/For purpose mental health providers and Primary Health Network (PHN) mental health services including Headspace

If you are interested in participating in any of these workshops, please send a short email to expressing your interest by Friday, November 26. When responding, please indicate the state or territory you are based in and which of the following categories applies to you. Our goal is to ensure broad coverage across Australia and across these categories:

  1. Senior mental health OT practitioner (4-10 years of experience)
  2. Junior mental health OT practitioners (0-2 years of experience)
  3. Senior manager or educator (non-clinical) for public mental health settings
  4. Business owners or senior staff with education and training roles in private practices and NDIS provider organisations
  5. University educators/ academics 

We thank you for your support and apologise for the short notice. Please note that workshop numbers are limited, and we may not be able to accommodate all of those that are interested. For those that cannot participate, there will be an opportunity to provide separate feedback via this webpage.



OTA has released a survey for occupational therapists working in mental health, those who work with clients that have a mental health diagnosis, or co-occurring mental health issue. 

We’re seeking feedback from anyone who:

  • Is a current practising OT
  • Practises in Australia
  • Works with clients who have a mental health diagnosis or co-occurring mental health issue

Common areas of practice that may involve mental health practice include:

  • Medicare and DVA mental health
  • NDIS psychosocial disability
  • NDIS mental health (not primary reason for receiving services)
  • Paediatric Autism Spectrum Disorder and behavioural supports
  • Paediatric (and family) mental health
  • Community aged care (not necessarily mental health specific)
  • Residential aged care (not necessarily mental health specific)
  • Suicide prevention
  • Homelessness and housing
  • Employment services
  • Occupational rehabilitation
  • Education supports in schools
  • Forensic mental health
  • Care coordination and case management roles
  • Chronic pain
  • Research
  • Advocacy and policy roles

The survey should take approximately 10 minutes. To contribute to the survey, click the link below.

Advocacy workshop overview and findings

The first round of advocacy-focused consultation workshops are now complete. The list of workshops below has now be updated to include a copy of the briefing paper provided to participants and a high-level summary of the discussions. We encourage you to review these documents and to consider whether you might want to provide any feedback or input.

  • Workshop 1: Private Medicare- and DVA-funded mental health services 
    Wednesday 29th September, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 2: NDIS-funded mental health services and services for people with psychosocial disability  
    Thursday 30th September, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 3: Hospital-based mental health services including in- and out-patient mental health programs  
    Friday 1st October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 4: Community mental health services  
    Wednesday 6th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 5: Mental health services for children and young people  
    Thursday 7th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 5b: Mental health services for children and young people  
    Thursday 7th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 6: Aged care mental health services 
    Friday 8th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

  • Workshop 7: Mental health services funded under worker and accident compensation schemes 
    Tuesday 12th October, 10:30am – 12:00pm AEST

    Briefing paper
    Workshop summary

Project governance 

The Thinking Ahead: Mental Health project is being overseen by an Expert Advisory Group (EAG), which provides ongoing governance and guidance. The EAG comprises a highly experienced group of occupational therapists from across the public, community, non-government, academic and private sectors. The group is supported by input from consumer members. 

The membership of that group is as follows: 

  • Adam Lo, CLCE Coordinator, Metro South Health and OTA Board member 
  • Dr Priscilla Ennals, Senior Manager Research and Evaluation, NEAMI National and OTA Board member 
  • Adam Finkelstein, Private Mental Health OT, In Dialogue and Complex Psychology
  • Dr Carolynne White, Participation and Engagement Advisor, Mind Australia 
  • Assoc Prof Genevieve Pepin, Discipline Lead Occupational Science and Therapy, Deakin University 
  • Michael Barrett, General Manager of Policy and Government Relations, OTA (Chair) 
  • Michelle Oliver, SA and NT Divisional Manager, OTA 
  • Phoebe Williamson, Statewide Mental Health Occupational Therapy Educator, Centre for Mental Health Learning Victoria 
  • Julie Dempsey OAM, Senior Consumer Consultant, Forensicare
  • Dr Leanne Beagley, CEO, Mental Health Australia
  • Dave Peters, Co-Chair and Lived Experience Ambassador, Equally Well Australia

Getting in touch 

Do you have a question about the project? Are you seeking to provide input? Please send any questions to

OTA will also provide regular updates about the project on this webpage and through OTA communications channels.

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