Thinking Ahead: Mental Health

The future of occupational therapy and mental health in Australia

Updated: 6 June, 2022

The Thinking Ahead: Mental Health project was established to ensure OTA is supporting mental health occupational therapists effectively.  

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 all areas of 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 commenced this major project 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.  

The project has involved extensive consultation with members and other stakeholders, as well as research and engagement with government. With Phase 2 activities now complete, a range of internally and externally focused outcomes have been identified, each of which will be supported by a series of actions and activities that OTA will undertake over the next 18 months. 

What we’re doing 

OTA is working with the profession to understand and address the issues that most impact occupational therapists working in mental health and where the organisation can undertake work to address issues and improve access to mental health occupational therapy.

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.  

Current activities are now focusing on communications-focused work and the development of resources to support improved understanding and recognition of the mental health occupational therapy role.

Consulting with the profession? 

OTA is committed to ensuring that the output of this project is built on the expert knowledge and input of occupational therapists working in mental health. The project has involved extensive engagement with member and non-member occupational therapists across a broad range of mental health settings. Listed below are the consultation activities that have been undertaken. Short summaries of the findings of the workshops are included for reference. We thank each and every occupational therapist that has taken the time to contribute to workshops, participated in one-on-one discussions, provided written input, or responded to the survey.

Deep dive clinical and community practice workshops

To support the survey findings and the project, OTA undertook a series of deep dive workshops, focused on understanding the different capabilities and areas of expertise required by mental health OTs at different stages of their career and in different mental health settings. This included 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 are listed below along with a summary of the discussions:

  1. Workshop 1: Tertiary community mental health
    Thursday, 2nd December, 2021.
    Workshop summary
  2. Workshop 2: NDIS psychosocial supports 
    Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 
    Workshop summary
  3. Workshop 3: Private practice – Adult mental health services
    Wednesday, 8th December, 2021
    Workshop summary
  4. Workshop 4: Private practice – Mental health services for children and families. Wednesday, 9th December, 2021
    Workshop summary
  5. Workshop 5: Tertiary in-patient and forensic mental health
    Tuesday, 14th December, 2021
    Workshop summary
  6. Workshop 6: Non-government and Primary Health Network (PHN) mental health 
    Wednesday 15th December, 2021
    Workshop summary

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 

Mental Health Workforce Survey

To support the findings of the individual workshops and other consultation activities, OTA developed and distributed a workforce survey focused on helping the organisation gather information across a number of key areas including workforce demographics, mental health occupational therapy practice, and training and development. The response to the survey was incredibly positive with almost a thousand occupational therapists from across Australia taking the time to provide responses.

The survey has now closed and the responses have been collated in order to inform the findings and recommendations of the project and to support the next round of mental health-focused activities.  

Mental Health 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.

Project governance 

The Thinking Ahead: Mental Health project is being overseen by an Expert Advisory Group (EAG), which provides expert advice 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 continue to provide regular updates about the project on this webpage and through OTA communications channels.

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