Occupational therapy treatment has a long history with treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dating back to the first world war in which it was used to help treat soldiers with shell shock (which is now known as PTSD), traumatic brain injuries and other physical war injuries. Indeed, war veterans commonly experience PTSD - the greatest amount of cases of PTSD in men are seen in veterans. However, occupational therapy is not commonly known for treating PTSD or other mental disorders. Most research on the use of occupational therapy is in relation to stroke, brain injury, vision loss and other severe physical injuries. Nevertheless, occupational therapy can be beneficial for those with PTSD and other mental health disorders - it also has a history of use in mental institutions.
It was developed as it was thought that ‘doing’ would be more therapeutic than just ‘talking’. It works on the psychological premise that illnesses are commonly problems of adaption (this is particularly the case with PTSD) that need practical methods of treatment. Illnesses such as PTSD are not simply mysterious essences residing somewhere in the brain or body that can be treated solely with medication.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy involves helping the patient to set goals for their lives and developing strategies to achieve these goals. Throughout the process patients are aided in achieving maximum levels of participation and independence in their lives. Patients with PTSD often experience difficulties in simple day-to-day activities and tend to become socially withdrawn. This results in a vast diminishment in quality of life. The goal setting strategy of occupational therapy allows patients to deal with these difficulties and work through the feelings of anxiety that are preventing them for living their life to the full.
However, it has been recommended that occupational therapy take place in conjunction with medication and other forms of therapy. Although occupational therapy provides the patient with practical skills to increase their life satisfaction in the future it does not directly address the issues of the past. Occupational therapy provides a good adjunct to talking therapies, however the benefits of talking therapies should not be underestimated. Most psychologists are in agreement that talking therapies that involve exposure are essential in conquering PTSD. That is to say, it is not enough to equip the patient with means to face the future, they must also be aided in facing the past.
Why is Occupational Therapy Beneficial?
Occupational therapy is a particularly beneficial treatment for PTSD for several reasons. Firstly, it takes into account the person as a whole, as opposed to simply considering the anxiety they are experiencing due to PTSD. The strategies that are taught during occupational therapy can be applied to novel situations throughout the patient’s life, and occupational therapy works on improving conditions in all areas of the patient’s life. It plays a role in addressing community reintegration, social reconnections and work accommodations. These are areas in which PTSD sufferers experience particular difficulty. Lastly, occupational therapy also involves family members of the patient, acknowledging the importance of social support. This is particularly important for sufferers of PTSD who are known to face great relationship difficulties.
Meyer, A. (1983) Occupational therapy in mental health. London: Routledge.
Kring, A.M., Davison, G.C., Neale, J.M. & Johnson, S.L. (2007) Abnormal Psychology. USA: John Wiley & Sons.
This post is part of the series: Treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that develops as a response to a traumatic event. These articles outline the available treatments for post traumatic stress disorder and their effectiveness.