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Occupational Therapy Practice in Mental Health Field in India:A conversation with Dr. Vinita Acharya

Updated: Oct 12, 2022







Dr. Vinita Acharya completed her bachelor's and master’s degree in occupational therapy from Seth G.S. Medical College and KEM hospital in Mumbai, India. She went on to receive her doctorate from the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. Currently, she serves as an associate professor and head of the department of occupational therapy at the Manipal College of Health Professions in Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India. She has been working in the mental health field in India for the past 15 years.



Here are excerpts from the conversation:

India has a diverse occupational therapy practice pattern in the mental health field. For example, based on Dr. Acharya’s experience as an academic faculty, the mental health field as a practice setting is more popular in the southern part of India compared to the northern part of India. The students from the northern parts of India have limited clinical exposure to the population with mental illness. Their role is limited to interviewing the client, determining signs and symptoms, and establishing home programs. In contrast, the


students from the southern part of India are familiar with theoretical models, psychology based techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy rather than occupation based techniques. Many occupational therapists work in long term settings with populations with chronic mental illness and in child psychiatry with ADHD, autism. Additionally, some occupational therapists work in vocational rehabilitation settings. There are some est


ablished psychiatric setups at The Christian Medical College at Vellore and National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in which occupational therapists are employed. There appears to be an influence of psychology-based techniques versus occupation-based techniques in mental health practice in India.

Overall, there is limited representation of occupational therapy professionals in the mental health field in India. In a recent study, Dr. Acharya and her student found that occupational therapy practitioners working in mental health settings believed that students may not understand the prospects and scope of working in the mental health field or they do not feel equipped to work in this field due to limited clinical exposure during their undergraduate training. Additionally, due to the limited number of occupational therapists choosing to work in the mental health field, positions are taken by other professionals such as social workers. Moreover, there is a lack of awareness in the mental health professional community about the role of occupational therapists in the mental health field.

Occupational therapists are a part of the multidisciplinary community-based rehabilitation teams in well-established institutions however it is not widespread. The Department of Psychiatry at Kasturba Hospital, Manipal is about to launch a community outreach program based on Assertive Community Treatment principles. As the head of the department of occupational therapy, Dr. Acharya is keen on being involved in this initiative to allow occupational therapists to work on community re-integration, social participation, instrumental activities of daily living, and offer occupation-based treatment for clients with mental illness in the community. Occupational therapy professionals in India will benefit from suggestions and recommendations of global occupational therapists experienced in community-based rehabilitation.





Occupational therapy professionals In India will gain from additional advocacy efforts at the policy level. Despite advocacy efforts from All India Occupational Therapy Association (AIOTA), occupational therapy professionals were not included in mental health professionals category in the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017. Additional high level evidence of effectiveness of occupational therapy interventions in mental health field is essential. Advancement of occupational therapy education


with mental health specialty, provision of hands on training and skill building in occupational therapists will help in strengthening our professional voice.

The department of Occupational Therapy at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education is making attempts to encourage students to choose mental health as an elective and specialization and have seen an increase in students opting for mental health specialty over the years. The students graduating from the occupational therapy program have taken action to raise awareness about the role of occupational therapy in mental health via presentations.

Resources

  1. Esther, S., & Acharya, V. (2022). We are not vocational trainers: Indian occupational therapists’ experiences of working in mental health settings, World Federation of Occupational Therapists Bulletin. DOI: 10.1080/14473828.2022.2095493

  2. CoDe CARE, https://www.facebook.com/codecare04/

  3. All India Occupational Therapy Association, https://www.aiota.org/




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