Understanding the Role of Occupational Therapy in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Operational Stress Injuries

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and operational stress injuries (OSI) are a complex conditions caused by traumatic and distressing events such as crimes, natural disasters, accidents, war or other threats to life or safety. Nightmares, flashbacks, or overwhelming and recurring thoughts of the event can interfere with normal life for months. The symptoms of PTSD cause significant distress that impact social and occupational participation to a degree that is clinically significant (APA, 2013). Difficulty is often evident in the person’s ability to functionally engage in self- and home-care activities, education and work roles, and social and leisure interests. The ability to develop and maintain relationships is often negatively affected.post-traumatic-stress-disorderbrain.jpg

Occupational Therapy practitioners are qualified mental health professionals who assist people experiencing barriers to engage in meaningful roles and occupations to increase their participation, health, and wellness (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2010, 2014). Studies show that OT is particularly effective in providing those suffering from PTSD with the coping and management skills needed to conduct their daily activities. They work with individuals of all age ranges, in all phases of
recovery, by helping them and their caregivers identify and address recovery-based needs and strategies within the context of real-life demands (AOTA, 2014).

Occupational Therapists work with individuals to help identify strengths, values, interests, resources and challenges in order to implement plans that address family commitments, employment and leisure activities. Occupational therapy looks beyond the physical and mental disability and works with their clients and their family to help them engage in the meaningful activities of their lives (CAOT).

Some examples of occupational therapy interventions include:

  • Work with clients and their families to identify the occupations and activities that are important for family, personal and work life.
  • Help to plan, initiate and track short and long term goals that enable participation in those activities.
  • Help clients increase their participation in meaningful roles and activities in a variety of ways including: create and use a daily schedule to identify triggers and helpful strategies, identify and obtain the type and amount of supports necessary for successful participation, and implement exposure techniques.
  • Address trauma triggers and warning signs; symptom stabilization; and learning new coping, health, and wellness strategies (e.g., stress management and relaxation techniques).
  • Provide training to clients, caregivers, and interdisciplinary staff in adaptive or modified self- and home care, work, or school-based strategies, so as not to inadvertently trigger hypersensitivity patterns, dissociation, flooding, or flashbacks.
  • Perform assessments to help understand specific challenges (concentration, attention, anxiety, impulsivity, divided attention).
  • Teach practical, non-pharmaceutical ways of coping with adverse symptoms e.g. stress, pain, and sleep disruption.
  • Help replace unhealthy activities, such as substance abuse, by increasing engagement in healthy, meaningful activities.
  • Use “hands on” approaches by: going to the individual’s home or workplace, meeting with the individual’s family and/or employer to facilitate engagement in target occupations.
  • Advocate for clients.

Why Occupational Therapy?  Occupational therapy practitioners recognize the value of engaging in meaningful roles and daily activities to maintain and/or regain health and well-being.

Call 613-766-3503 to book a free 15 minute consultation if you have any additional questions. I’m here to help.


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