As an occupational therapist with four years of experience in behavioral health, I have really enjoyed learning about some of the intricacies of the industry. Mental health is a unique field, which is part of the reason why occupational therapists are often intimidated at the idea of working in this discipline. 

I’m passionate about encouraging therapists to enter this practice because of the positive impact they can have on an under-served population, both individuals and the larger community.  But how do you get there and succeed in a mental health job? Read on. 

Seek Observation Hours

Observation hours aren’t just for those thinking about OT school. Even if you are a practicing therapist, shadowing a fellow OT who works in a practice setting you’re interested in is a great way to see the ins and the outs of the job. 

It’ll also help you figure out if you would do well in such an environment. Behavioral health can be fast-paced and requires significant attention to detail, so some therapists may find this off-putting. 

Don’t Skip the Details in Your Application

Some people think there is only one way to fill out a job application: answer the questions and send it on its way. I strongly recommend that you give detailed information about your related experiences – details help land interviews. 

Newly graduated therapists should be sure to place all of their fieldwork rotations as work experience. Therapists should highlight job duties such as:

  •     Helping develop behavioral plans
  •     Working with children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  •     Educating XYZ population on coping strategies
  •     Training XYZ population on community reintegration, life skills, communication techniques, and self-care

Each of these statements shows that you have the ability to treat individuals who demonstrate behavioral and emotional concerns and effectively get results. 

Therapists who have been practicing for 1-2 years can mention one or two fieldwork experiences if they directly relate to the role they’re applying for. However, OTs with a work history should focus more on the parts of previous jobs that make them a good fit for working in behavioral health.

Write a Resume That Highlights Your Strengths

You are your biggest advocate, so don’t be shy about your skills. Your resume is the place to focus on both your hard and soft skills. Many experts say that individuals should specifically tailor their resume to the job they are applying for. That’s okay to do, but your application gives you much more space to discuss specific aspects of your work history. 

Think of your resume as a one-and-a-half page snapshot of your abilities and skills. 

It is a good idea to place the age range and type of diagnoses (orthopedic, neurological, psychosocial, autistic, etc.) you treated in each job position so employers know what settings and populations you have experience with. 

Understand How to Answer Interview Questions

Many people are familiar with standard interview questions that you should be prepared for, including “Talk about a time when you were in a difficult situation at work and describe what you did,” “How do you typically deal with difficult people?”, and “Name one of your best qualities that would make you a good fit for this job.”

If you are interviewing for a position in behavioral health, it is important that you are truthful in answering these questions but also tailor them to the practice setting. Some people may choose to talk about being skilled in dealing with difficult people at a retail job, having to work with peers who have a range of personalities during OT school, or a fieldwork opportunity where they had to encourage many reluctant or unmotivated patients to engage in therapy. This shows your ability to work with a population that is common within behavioral health settings.

Discuss Relevant Education

Even though you are interviewing for an occupational therapy position, not all employers know what exactly OT school consists of. It’s worth mentioning academic courses, certifications, relevant projects, or continuing education that makes you prepared for work in behavioral health. 

This includes your capstone project (if it was on a psychosocial topic), Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training, courses on the science of addiction, group therapy process, or abnormal psychology, workshops to help improve interprofessional communication, or special training in complementary health approaches.  

As an occupational therapist, there are many rewarding and fulfilling jobs that allow you to help individuals live better lives. In particular, patients in behavioral health settings can benefit from both group and individual occupational therapy treatment to receive education on their health conditions, participate in training to learn or relearn certain skills, and manage emotional, social, or behavioral symptoms. 

With some preparation and emphasis on a therapist’s unique skills, education, and experience, OTs can enter the behavioral health field and succeed in a role that improves the emotional well-being of patients experiencing a crisis.