MentalHealth Research in Occupational Therapy


Occupationaltherapy seeks to identify various strategies that can be used totreat mental health problems. In this respect, several studies havebeen conducted to examine the impact of various treatment strategies.Cases of acute stress disorder have increased in recent decades astesting procedures continue to advance. The information obtained fromsuch studies can be used to boost mental health occupational therapy.

The SelectedMental Health Client Population

Acute stressdisorder refers to the tension and anxiety that typically accompaniesa traumatic event within one month of its occurrence. The anxietydisorder may last for three days or even extend beyond three weeks(Friedman, 2015). The symptoms are closely related to thoseexperienced in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Acute stressdisorder could result after witnessing one or more tragic events.Experiencing tragedy often leads to intense helplessness, horror, orfear. Some of the traumatizing events include serious injuries, deaththreats, and death (Friedman, 2015). The vast majority of individualsthat have undergone traumatic episodes are at risk of developingacute stress disorder (Friedman, 2015). In fact, anyone with ahistory of mental problems, PTSD, and dissociative symptoms has anincreased likelihood of suffering the anxiety disorder.


Acute stressdisorder poses several challenges for affected persons. Dissociativesymptoms may occur to reduce the patient’s awareness of theirsurroundings (Friedman, 2015). A feeling of numbness may also beexperienced whereby an individual becomes detached and emotionallyunresponsive. Additionally, Dissociative amnesia occurs when a personforgets the most important aspects of a traumatic event. Somepatients undergo depersonalization due to emotions and thoughts thatseem foreign or unreal. On the other hand, derealization occurs whenthe surrounding environment appears strange (Friedman, 2015).

Furthermore,patients with acute stress disorder reexperience the traumatic eventon multiple occasions. The recurring factors may be in the form ofsounds, thoughts, images, nightmares, flashback episodes, andillusions (Friedman, 2015). Reliving the experience increases thedistress, especially when something triggers unpleasant memories.Avoidance techniques may be used to steer clear of stimuli such asactivities, objects, feelings, thoughts, places, people, andconversations (Friedman, 2015). Unfortunately, some patients are notonly irritable but also have sleeping problems. They may find itdifficult to concentrate on one activity. Besides, many patientsstartle easily as they are unable to eradicate the constant tension(Friedman, 2015). Distressful circumstances may also causedisruptions in family life. Social relationships and workinteractions gradually wane as the symptoms increase in severity.

Discussion ofPrevious Research

Persons withacute stress disorder usually face an array of functional limitationsin different segments of daily life. The normal developmentalprogression is ordinarily curtailed by the effects of traumaticexperiences. For example, family life may be adversely affectedwhereby patients lack the fortitude to shoulder theirresponsibilities. In this regard, marriages become strained whileparenthood fails to provide adequate guidance for children. Availableresearch also shows that some people may experience challenges indating. Other patients have difficulty maintaining friendships.Educational achievements may be hampered in that an individual lacksthe intellectual capacity to make academic progress.

In other cases ofacute stress disorder, individuals encounter challenges in makingoccupational advancements. Some patients may require help in planningwork absences and other fundamental responsibilities. On the otherhand, others may need encouragement to avoid making significantchanges while their symptoms intensify. Various factors determine theloss of developmental opportunities. For instance, some patientsportray avoidant behaviors when they choose to skip sessions ofmental therapy. Others worry that their interpersonal life would beneedlessly restricted. Also, some individuals fear that theirsymptoms would recur.

Nevertheless,available research shows that existing Occupational Therapyinterventions have been reasonably effective. The paramount goal ofany intervention has been to identify and implement realisticstrategies that not only restore but also promote the normal elementsof developmental progression (Söderback, 2015). Occupationaltherapy interventions recognize the impact of other mechanisms suchas poor self-care and hyperarousal in the development of functionalimpairments. Furthermore, psychosocial problems associated with acutestress disorder hinder the patient’s ability to perform mundaneactivities (Söderback, 2015). Consequently, occupational therapyinterventions have been effective since they assess the patient’slevel of functioning on an ongoing basis.


The citedresearch studies utilized evidence gathered from single-sessionpsychological briefings. Such sessions were conducted withindividuals in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. Some ofthe traumatic exposures include burn injuries, physical assaults,combat, and motor vehicle crashes. Psychological distress is rarelydiminished even when therapeutic sessions are conducted soon aftertraumatic events. Therefore, various studies used a series ofrandomized trials to assess the efficiency of debriefing sessionsacross different population groups (Nixon &amp Rackerbrandt, 2015).For example, some hospitalized survivors of burns were assigned totherapy a few hours after the incident. Other victims were scheduledfor sessions months after the ordeal had occurred. In both cases,follow-up was scheduled at designated times to ensure uniformity(Nixon &amp Rackerbrandt, 2015). The results from such a studyshowed the differences in progression of acute stress disorderdepending on the timing of therapy. In particular, the patients thatreceived immediate therapy had higher chances of having a recurrencecompared to those who took longer to receive therapy.

In addition,having group therapy for acute stress disorder has limited benefits.A research study conducted group debriefings with some soldiers a fewdays after honorary release from combat (Boehm-Tabib, 2016). Thedebriefings were structured to clarify the roles of the soldiers andunderstand time sequences. The primary challenge was to obtainpertinent facts without instigating the soldiers` emotions. The studyfound that the soldiers had improved self-efficacy and reducedanxiety after debriefing. Nonetheless, other studies conducted withindividual soldiers yielded the same results (Boehm-Tabib, 2016).Such findings prove that group therapy is not superior to individualtherapy.

Strategies andInterventions

Patients withacute stress disorder customarily manifest a broad range of symptoms.Existing literature shows the different approaches used in the careof such patients. Psychopharmacology is one of the strategies adoptedby mental health care professionals (Boehm-Tabib, 2016). In thisregard, pharmacological treatment is provided after exposure totrauma to prevent further development of acute stress disorder.Granted, existing literature has presented limited evidence to provethe efficacy of pharmacological interventions when used in at-riskpersons. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are theprimary clinical interventions used to combat acute stress disorder(Söderback, 2015). SSRIs have been noted to relieve core symptomsassociated with acute stress disorder in both male and femalepatients. Also, other drugs such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors andtricyclic antidepressants may have success in the treatment of acutestress disorder. In particular, benzodiazepines help to improvesleeping patterns by reducing anxiety.

Besides, usingpsychotherapeutic interventions may result in the delay of symptomsassociated with acute stress disorder. Cognitive behavior therapieshave the most success when used within a few weeks of the traumaticevent (Nixon &amp Rackerbrandt, 2015). Some of these approachesinclude psychoeducation, case management, and supportiveinterventions. Reductions in symptoms of acute stress disorder can beseen when patients are encouraged to depend on their innatestrengths. It may also suffice to rely on established supportnetworks rather than seek to nurture unproven connections. However,single-session techniques and psychological debriefing may enhancethe symptoms of acute stress disorder in some circumstances (Nixon &ampRackerbrandt, 2015).

Severaloccupational therapy programs have been implemented to solve thedifficulties associated with acute stress disorder. For example,applied behavioral analysis has been used to measure socialchallenges in human behavior. Also, cognitive-behavioral therapy(CBT) has been used to address the limitations of acute stressdisorder by combining cognitive and behavioral perspectives (Nixon &ampRackerbrandt, 2015).

Strategies forEnsuring Ethical Mental Health Occupational Therapy ResearchPractices

The increase incases of mental health has necessitated a rethink on the processesand practices used in research. Some of these strategies includeexposure-based therapies and group therapies. Exposure-basedtreatments help patients to develop perspective through interactionwith other persons experiencing similar symptoms. Therefore,occupational therapy practitioners can evaluate their comparativeeffectiveness. Subsequently, instances of bias can be eliminated byproviding equal opportunities for all patients to receive care(Söderback, 2015). Group therapies are also important since theyensure inclusive consideration of symptoms associated with acutestress disorder.

Application ofCited Research to Mental Health Occupational Therapy Practice

Cited researchcan be applied to mental health occupational therapy practice byfocusing on the psychosocial needs of patients. Establishing aclient-centered practice contributes to active empowerment andengagement of clients (Söderback, 2015). Occupational therapyinterventions have to support the participation of patients.Treatment strategies must also acknowledge the fact that each clienthas unique characteristics. Consequently, the methods derived fromcited research must be personalized to ensure that the customer`sgoals are respected. Furthermore, a therapist would be able toimplement a treatment plan only if they understood the patient’scultural belief system and cognitive functioning (Söderback, 2015).

Indeed, availableresearch shows that existing Occupational Therapy interventions havebeen somewhat effective in combating acute stress disorder. Theprimary aim of any intervention technique has been to identify andenact functional strategies that not only restore but also promotethe customary elements of developmental progression. Occupationaltherapy interventions recognize the impact of other mechanisms in thedevelopment of functional impairments. Therefore, it adopts the bestapproach in addressing acute stress disorder.


Boehm-Tabib, E. (2016). Acute stress disorder among civilians duringa war and post-traumatic growth six years later: the impact ofpersonal and social resources. Anxiety, Stress, &amp Coping,29(3), 318-333. doi:10.1080/10615806.2015.1053806

Friedman, M. J. (2015). Posttraumatic and acute stress disorders.Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Nixon, R. D. V. &amp Rackerbrandt, J. (2015). Cognitive LoadUndermines Thought Suppression in Acute Stress Disorder. BehaviorTherapy, 47(3), 388-403. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2016.02.010

Söderback, I. (2015). International Handbook of OccupationalTherapy interventions. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.