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The Role of Occupational Therapists in China

A follow up to the article: The Role of Occupational Therapists in Mental Health

By: Carey Hotsky


Disability in China

While China is a very highly populated country, it also has a high number of individuals with disabilities. In 2010 it was estimated that the number of individuals throughout China who had a documented disability was around 85 million, with 6.29 million of those being mental health conditions (Mu et al., 2020). It is also projected that this number has since grown greatly following the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020. While the number of individuals with a disability in China continues to grow, so does the need for China’s rehabilitation services and resources to meet the needs of these millions of individuals (Mu et al., 2020). One reason why China may not have adequate services to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities is due to traditional Chinese beliefs that illness or disability is a punishment for past sins and as a result, the person who has a disability must be cared for solely by family members (Lavine & Greiner, 2020).

The development of OT in China

The profession of occupational therapy is still evolving throughout China. In 2018, China became a member of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (Mu et al., 2020). The first “treatment room” that focused on OT was established in Beijing in 1988 and shortly after that, the Ministry of Health in China required all secondary and tertiary Chinese hospitals to provide rehabilitation services which included occupational therapy (Mu et al., 2020). It wasn’t until 2008 that OT services really evolved, this was when the Sichuan earthquake happened, and 100 OTs provided rehabilitative care to those affected. Due to the vast demand for OT services, foreign occupational therapists also travelled to China to assist. This event really highlighted the need for occupational therapy services and Hong Kong Polytechnic University partnered with Sichuan University to develop an occupational therapy master’s program (Mu et al., 2020). More recently, there is still a shortage of occupational therapists practicing in China. Due to this shortage, it is common for other practitioners such as nurses, physicians or rehab professionals with about 30-60 hours of specific OT training to provide services to patients (Lavine & Greiner, 2020).

The role of OT in mental health in China

Mental health is a major concern throughout China, however, there are insufficient mental health resources and major barriers for citizens to access services (Que et al., 2019). Some barriers to appropriate mental health services include financial investments, hospital beds (the number of psychiatric beds in China per 10,000 population is 3.15) which is significantly lower than in other countries, and a low number of psychiatric professionals (Que et al., 2019). While there is already a shortage of occupational therapists practicing in China, the number of occupational therapists practicing in mental health settings is considerably lower than in other countries. According to a study in Beijing that surveyed 44 occupational therapists, approximately 7 of them worked with individuals with psychiatric diagnoses (Shi & Howe, 2016). The main professionals who provide mental health services to individuals in China consist of social workers, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists.

The role of OT in mental health in Hong Kong

While OTs do not typically practice in mental health settings in mainland China, there is some further development of OT services in mental health in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. Since 2000, OT services have greatly evolved in Hong Kong, specifically in mental health settings. The main mental health setting in which OTs work is Hospital Authority which includes inpatient hospitals, day hospitals, and mental disorder clinics (Cheng, 2019). OTs can also work in Non-Government Organizations including community support programs, vocational rehabs, and residential care (Cheng, 2019). In Hong Kong, it is typically for OTs to provide services to their patients such as psychoeducational groups and activity-based interventions (Cheng, 2019). Overall, it appears as though occupational therapy as a profession is much more evolved in Hong Kong as compared to mainland China.



Cheng, Stella. (2019, Sept. 5). Psychosocial OT Services in Hong Kong [PowerPoint slides]. Hong Kong Occupational Therapy Association.

Lavine, D., & Greiner, B. (2020). Occupational therapy in mainland China: Status, challenges, and Future Directions. Annals of International Occupational Therapy, 3(1), 38–44.

Mu, K., Patterson, A., Lohman, H., Yang, Y., & Wu, J. (2020). Development of occupational therapy in China. Annals of International Occupational Therapy, 3(2), 92–97.

Que, J., Lu, L., & Shi, L. (2019). Development and challenges of mental health in China. General Psychiatry, 32(1).

Shi, Y., & Howe, T.-H. (2016). A survey of occupational therapy practice in Beijing, China. Occupational Therapy International, 23(2), 186–195.


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