Improving Mental Health Through Occupational Therapy

| Dr. Michelle Messer

We have all heard that good health involves sound body, mind, and spirit. But how does that work exactly? Here is some of the rationale behind supporting mental health to promote physical health and well-being.

Imagine you are visiting a friend who recently experienced a stroke that impairs their ability to walk, get dressed, and shower. They tell you last week they were playing at the park with their grandkids: pushing them on the swings, meeting them at the bottom of the slide, and helping them climb up the rope ladder. Now, just seven days later, they need to have help from a family member each morning while they get dressed, are unable to walk more than a few feet without worrying they might fall and are not sure when they will be strong enough to play with the grandkids again.

For many, this sudden change in health status is accompanied with depression. Depression and anxiety affect as many as 50% survivors of a stroke, even if there is no history of depression or anxiety prior to the stroke.1

Health professionals working with individuals experiencing a change in health status must also consider how this change impacts the person psychosocially in addition to how it impacts them physically. If health professionals are aware and understand the emotional and psychological impacts, they are better positioned to provide the most effective intervention.1

Occupational therapy is a profession that uses meaningful occupation to improve function. Just like a pharmacist uses medications to improve health, an occupational therapist “prescribes” participation in occupations, or activities, to improve health.2

An occupational therapist will offer the following treatment approach for individuals experiencing depression or anxiety from a significant physical change in their life: Discuss the individual’s goals and customize the plan of care around those goals.

  • Breakdown the occupations like dressing into smaller pieces, and work on those smaller pieces one at a time.
  • Keep the individual focused on how the smaller pieces are part of the bigger task and how each small piece contributes to improving their overall health.
  • Provide education and support around the loss the individual may be feeling and provide interventions to address those feelings. 
  • Help the individual articulate what makes them unique and find ways that those unique characteristics are still present even during the rehabilitation process.

If you or someone you know is in need of occupational therapy to improve their mental health, contact us today to schedule a free consultation!

Dr. Michelle Messer has been an occupational therapist since 2010. She has clinical experience in many different settings and has also been an occupational therapy faculty member. Her passion is providing great occupational therapy interventions.

Dr. Messer acknowledges that every client she meets has unique needs, and it is her great honor and privilege to work side by side with each client to support them in achieving their goals. She has undergone advanced trainings and certifications to meet the needs of her clients. She is proud to be a Board Certified Practitioner in Physical Rehabilitation, a distinction achieved by one percent of occupational therapist clinicians nationwide.

Dr. Messer loves her profession and loves what the work of being an occupational therapist allows her to do. Her role, as an occupational therapist, is to help clients leverage their assets to improve function and quality of life. Knowing that everyone has areas that could benefit from continued development and growth, she loves helping clients to nurture those areas to being their total health and wellness into optimum capacity. She has found that when clients are supported in this journey, the sky is the limit, and it is so rewarding to facilitate and encourage during that journey.


1Hildenbrand M. “Effectiveness of Interventions for Adults With Psychological or Emotional Impairment After Stroke: An Evidence-Based Review.” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2019, 16, 1-9. 

2American Occupational Therapy Association. “Mental Health Promotion, Prevention, and Intervention: Across the Lifespan.” Occupational Therapy’s Distinctive Value, 2016,

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