Many of you have reached out to us regarding newspaper articles describing a study funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about how occupational therapy can help clients who are dealing with age-related vision loss. While the articles generated by a press release issued by NEI rightfully explain OT’s role in low vision, they unfortunately inaccurately depict the profession’s role in mental health.

After collaboration between multiple divisions of AOTA, we have shared the following response with NEI and NIH in an effort to correct the misinformation. If you have questions about this correspondence, please e-mail me at kriley@aota.org.

July 22, 2014

It has come to the attention of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) that incorrect information about the occupational therapy profession was included in a recent  press release issued by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eye Institute (NEI) (Rehabilitation helps prevent depression from age-related vision loss, July 9). While the press release provides a positive example of the effectiveness of occupational therapy in low vision rehabilitation, a portion of the press release, unfortunately, misrepresents the education and training that occupational therapy practitioners receive.

A comment by Barry Rovner, M.D., reads, “Specialized instruction would also be needed for occupational therapists, who are not typically trained in behavior activation.” In fact, the basis of occupational therapy is very similar to that of behavior activation–helping clients to engage in the activities they want and need to do.

Secondly, a line in the Ophthamology article incorrectly states that, “few occupational therapists, however, receive formal training in psychotherapies like behavior activation to counter depression...”

All occupational therapy practitioners receive training in mental wellness, and they focus on psychological, social, and environmental factors that influence engagement in meaningful activities. Occupational therapy practitioners exercise a holistic approach to health care, so mental health and well-being are part of all their client evaluations.

As part of a low vision assessment, occupational therapy practitioners work as members of a team of vision rehabilitation experts to address multiple dimensions of disability, including physical, psychological, cognitive, and social, that prevent children and adults from engaging in meaningful daily occupations.

Additionally, AOTA sponsored systematic reviews on older adults with low vision and the results have been published as a special issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (May/June 2013 edition). Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Older Adults with Low Vision includes additional evidence to support occupational therapists’ work in this area. AOTA also has two evidence-based official documents that detail occupational therapy’s role in mental health and well-being. All of these resources are available upon request.

Thousands of occupational therapy practitioners work exclusively in the field of mental health to address depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, and much more.

The following fact sheets provide additional information on occupational therapy practitioners’ roles in addressing mental health and low vision:

We urge you to correct the press release to reflect occupational therapy practitioners’ training in addressing mental health and functional skills. AOTA President Virginia “Ginny” Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA, is available to speak with you in more detail about occupational therapy’s role in mental health if you have additional questions.