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How to Help Your Patients with Trauma: Understanding the Role of Occupational Therapy

As a health professional, providing the best care is of utmost importance, especially when it comes to individuals experiencing trauma. Symptoms of trauma may manifest as flashbacks, nightmares, uncontrollable thoughts, feelings of fear, helplessness, guilt, anxiety, sadness, mood swings, behaviour changes, difficulty coping, and physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, fatigue, racing heart, sweating, or feeling jumpy. Lifeworks Occupational Therapy has established a solid foundation for assisting individuals with trauma in improving their quality of life.

The 3 R’s Model: Regulate, Relate, Reason

You may be familiar with the simple 3 R’s model used in the education system – Regulate, Relate, Reason. Occupational Therapists (OTs) employ this model in various ways to build and enhance function in individuals who have experienced trauma.


One of the most challenging skills for individuals with trauma, particularly complex trauma, is the ability to control levels of arousal. OTs utilise techniques such as grounding, alerting, calming, and breathing exercises to introduce, train, and maintain a consistent practice. These techniques empower individuals to feel in control of their emotional environment.


Establishing trust and connection is a crucial aspect of the therapeutic process, albeit a lengthy one. OTs assist individuals in modelling, engaging, and connecting with others. Through the therapeutic relationship, OTs help people seek suitable, non-threatening social opportunities to enhance feelings of not being alone, connect with others, and improve existing relationships.


The ability to reason, think, and learn is essential for individuals to truly understand and implement recommendations. OTs provide psychoeducation about trauma, assess values, interests, and skills, and help individuals build healthy practices. By understanding the trauma process, individuals can make plans for the future.

Referring Patients to OT Services:

It’s important to note that not all occupational therapists focus on mental health. To refer your patients to OT services, you can start by asking for recommendations from colleagues or local professional organisations. Additionally, you can inquire if your patients are interested in OT services and refer them to an OT who possesses proficiency in mental health care. By working together, we can ensure that all patients have access to the care they need to manage their mental health effectively.


Occupational Therapy plays a vital role in helping patients with trauma improve their overall well-being. By utilising the 3 R’s model – Regulate, Relate, Reason – OTs empower individuals to regain control over their emotions, establish meaningful connections, and develop healthy coping strategies. As a health professional, your referral to skilled OTs focusing on mental health care can make a significant difference in your patients’ lives. Let’s collaborate to ensure that all patients have access to the care they need to manage their mental health effectively.

Annabelle is an experienced and certified Occupational Therapist who specializes in mental health. With over 20 years of experience in a variety of health-related settings, she has found her true calling in assisting people with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism, pain, and bipolar disorders. Annabelle is also a Certified HeartMath Practitioner, Registered Yoga Teacher, and trained in several therapeutic models, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Recovery Virtual Reality. In her free time, Annabelle enjoys cooking, practicing yoga, travelling, and spending time in nature.

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