The Role of Occupational Therapy in Trauma Healing

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It’s National Occupational Therapy Week in Canada, and it’s a time to recognize and celebrate the amazing work Occupational Therapists (OTs) do for so many people, including those who have suffered some form of trauma.

Kim Barthel is one such OT, but before we get into the work that Kim has done in this field, let’s talk about what occupational therapy is and how it helps so many.

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) describes this type of therapy as:

Occupational therapy is the art and science of enabling engagement in everyday living, through occupation; of enabling people to perform the occupations that foster health and well-being; and of enabling a just and inclusive society so that all people may participate to their potential in the daily occupations of life. 

Traumatic and distressing events such as crime, natural disasters, accidents, war, abuse (the list is endless) can cause PTSD. Symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, nervousness, insomnia and a long list more, can interfere with normal life for long periods of time.


Occupational therapists work with individuals to help identify strengths, values, interests, resources and challenges in order to implement plans that address family commitments, employment and leisure activities. Occupational therapy looks beyond the physical and mental disability and works with their clients and their family to help them engage in the meaningful activities of their lives. — CAOT

Some specific ways OTs can help victims of trauma include:

  • Identifying occupations and activities that are important for the client’s family, personal and work life.
  • Helping clients better understand the impact of their mental health problems.
  • Helping clients plan, initiate and track short and long-term goals to enable participation in their activities.
  • Perform assessments to help clients understand their specific challenges, such as concentration, attention, anxiety, etc.
  • Help clients learn practical and non-pharmaceutical ways of coping with their symptoms.
  • Using hands-on approaches with clients in both their home or workplace, and meeting with the client’s family and employers to facilitate the engagement as well.

Before working alongside Theo Fleury in writing ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, Kim Barthel built an extensive resume in occupational therapy (among many other specialties and fields).

To give you a brief look at Kim’s career and experience in OT:

Kim began her career as a pediatric occupational therapist serving children and adolescents with a broad spectrum of neurological and developmental disabilities. As the owner of Labyrinth Therapies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kim developed the first free-standing occupational therapy clinic outside of socialized medicine in Western Canada in 1989. Kim has extensive post-graduate education. She is a Neuro-Developmental Treatment OT Instructor with the NDTA, teaching therapists worldwide the facilitation of movement skills for children and adults who experience challenges moving their bodies.

To read more about Kim’s OT work or to find out about her upcoming events in this field, check out her website. To learn more about ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, please check out the CWAR website. You can also take part in a conversation about trauma and healing with us on Twitter and Facebook.

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