Occupational Therapy Is Ready for Its Close Up


Andrew Waite

There isn’t yet a motion picture featuring occupational therapy, but that doesn’t mean the profession has gone unnoticed by Hollywood.

On September 25, AOTA President Virginia Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA; AOTA Board member Shawn Phipps, PhD, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA; and Christina Metzler, AOTA’s chief Public Affairs officer, attended the 2013 Voice Awards, held at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles. AOTA was a cosponsor of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) event, now in its 8th year, which brings together representatives from the behavioral health community and the entertainment industry to improve public awareness of mental health and substance use issues. The 2013 event was hosted by actors Mehcad Brooks (USA Network’s Necessary Roughness) and Max Burkholder (NBC’s Parenthood) and honored film director David O. Russell, former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, and retired U.S. Army General Peter Chiarelli, as well as a number of community leaders and TV, film, and documentary screenwriters and producers for helping educate the American people that people recover from mental and/or substance use disorders.

AOTA at SAMHSA Voice AwardsAs a sponsor of the event, AOTA’s logo was prominently displayed on stage, where the awards were presented.

“Just being listed front and center, so that all the people who came to the event—including families, directors, writers, and other professionals who deal with mental health—[could see it] was really powerful,” Stoffel says. “There is also a lot of good will and community building that comes from publicly offering support to this kind of cause, and it allows us to build relationships, including our already blooming relationship with SAMHSA.” 

At the event, AOTA’s contingent had the chance to speak with Kana Enomoto, principal deputy administrator of SAMHSA, who reports directly to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Phipps says Enomoto had great knowledge of occupational therapy but was not familiar with the profession’s role in mental health.

“AOTA’s involvement allowed for recognition of occupational therapy at an event that celebrates and recognizes mental health and substance abuse disorders, and we stretched our impact because we were able to speak directly with a policy maker [Enomoto], who also has developed this relationship between SAMHSA and Hollywood, which of course reaches a lot of people,” Phipps says. “So I could see future connections for us really helping actors and directors understand occupational therapy better so they can incorporate it into movies and television. The seed has been planted, and now it can grow.”

As part of the ceremony, organizers played clips of popular television shows and movies that depicted characters coping with behavioral and mental health issues. 

“The Voice Awards acknowledge positive messages about people with mental health and substance problems, and the film clips showed how the doing can be just as beneficial as other treatments,” says Metzler. “In [Russell’s] Silver Linings Playbook, for example, it is the characters’ dancing that really helps them cope with difficult situations, and that is an opportunity for us to highlight the value of occupation on mental health and substance abuse recovery.”

Shawn Phipps, Ginny Stoffel, and Christina Metzler at Voice AwardsCo-sponsoring the Voice Awards was AOTA’s latest effort to highlight the occupational therapy profession’s expertise in mental health. Most notably, AOTA has introduced the Occupational Therapy Mental Health Act, which is a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would add occupational therapists to the federal definition of behavior and mental health professionals under the National Health Services Corps.

In addition, Stoffel now represents AOTA on the College for Behavioral Health Leadership and the National Council for Behavioral Health, which are each a collective of professions that can affect the programs, services, and supports available to the public.

“By actively promoting occupational therapy through connection with these organizations as well as SAMHSA, we are able to share what occupational therapy can do,” Stoffel says. “When we show the depth of our services, people are usually thrilled. People can see where we contribute, how we contribute, and what we contribute.”

For more on the Voice Awards, visit

Andrew Waite is the associate editor of OT Practice. He can be reached at