Occupational Therapy Interventions to Lift Spirits when Depressed

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Introduction

When occupational therapists work with their clients, they may be working with them at their lowest times. Many clients may be in the earlier phase of their rehab and have a hard time with adjustment to disability, or it could present in clients who have been with you for a while.

While time can heal the blues associated with a disease or injury, occupational therapists can play a role along with the rehab time in lifting clients’s spirits – psychosocial, rehab, pediatrics, any setting really.

In addition to using approaches such as therapeutic use of self or empathetic listening, therapists can specifically plan either 1:1 or group therapy sessions with the intention of lifting their client(s) spirits.

Many factors come into play and these interventions are not “one size fits all”.

Some examples of factors to consider in the client:

  • Gender
  • Age, Maturity
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Cognition
  • Physical abilities (strength, endurance, ROM, coordination)
  • Fine motor skills
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Arousal/alertness – sleep
  • Psychosocial history
  • Roles
  • Habits and routines
  • Pain
  • Senses (vision, hearing, vestibular)
  • Interests
  • Pragmatics – space, time, cost

1:1 Interventions

Balloon Volley Challenge

A classic therapy game. Inflate (or have the client inflate) a balloon to volley back and forth. Make it fun by trying to not let the balloon hit the ground for a certain number of times.

Rehab Bowling

Get creative using those therapy cones, a ball, and a narrow hallway to act as side gutters. Can be played standing or sitting in a wheelchair.

WiiSports/Dancing Video Games

If you have access to this equipment, it can be very engaging and help clients escape.

Air Hockey

Using a ping pong ball, something to act as the handle (e.g. filled waterbottle), and some barriers such as books on the border of the table. The goal can be the players. Have the client keep score.

Ping Pong Toss (“Beer Pong”)

All you need is a ping pong ball, some cups, a table, (chair optional). This game is popular among teens and young adults.

Minigolf

Can be simple as a ball, grabber stick, and a target on a flat surface. Some tape can be used temporarily on the ground as the tee. Or buy a pre-made set to deploy.

HORSE Basketball

With a ball, a bin (weighted down) as the basket, and marked places or placed chairs around the room.

Playing Catch while Naming Something

Incorporating dual-tasking can be fun and make playing catch more interesting. Categories such as place, food, movies, famous people are some examples.

Outdoor Scavenger Hunt

Give a list of things for your client to find or identify. Can be common objects, e.g. sprinkler, a bird nest, a flower, a bench to sit on together, a squirrel, etc.

Tai Chi, Qi Gong

YouTube has a lot of practice-along videos for tai chi and qi gong that are friendly for beginners (and therapists!)

Gardening

Gardening can be either indoor or outdoor. Supplies are not very expensive to acquire and OTs can incorporate various components of gardening such as use of potted plants, practicing with gardening tools, or working on an existing garden. Consider an indoor growing kit.

Board Games/Checkers, etc.

Works on multiple skills all at once. Rules can be simple and easy. Great for keeping clients engaged.

Playing Card Games

Have your client teach you their favorite card game.

Jenga

A classic that may be fun for some, but beware – may provoke anxiety for others.

Role playing game

Group/Social Interventions

Holiday-themed activities

With some extra planning, games such as easter egg hunt, decorating eggs, halloween-themed arts and crafts.

Arts and Crafts

Getting back to the roots of OT. Pinterest has limitless options for groups using affordable materials such as popsicle sticks, magazines, glue, construction paper, etc.

Apples to Apples 

A great game for groups that can be funny and entertaining.

Pictionary

Easy to set up and you probably already have everything needed to play. Divide group into two for competition.

Charades

Pre-make on cards that appropriate for your group and have everyone play for themselves or as a team of two.

Group Hockey Ball

Simple to set-up and play, lots of fun. Group sits around a table spread out and bat a ball on the table at each other. As ball comes towards someone, they bat it to someone else.

Blowing Bubbles

With some music playing, a trip to the dollar store, and you have a therapeutic activity outdoors. Bubble machines and bubble “guns” can be used for clients with difficulty.

Animal Therapy

Animals such as dogs can be great distractions and help to lower stress and anxiety. Or try one of these stuffed robot ones for older adults.

Wheel of fortune

With a small spinner, clients can take turn guessing the phrase category on the whiteboard.

Simple Board Games

There are so many simple board games that can be integrated into small and even large groups. Scattergories is a popular hit.

Trivia/Music Playback Trivia

Like trivia night at your favorite establishments. Topics can be movies, music, nostalgia to get you started.

Telestrations

The visual version of the “telephone” game. Using silly items can be a great laugh.

Guess Who?

Have each client write 1+ interesting things about them, e.g. something they’ve done, a talent, where they’ve been, accomplishment on a secret piece of paper, etc. Group leader collects all and reads them off at random. Participants guess who the fact belongs to. Keep track on a whiteboard. Therapists can participate too with their own fact.

Nervous Nelly & Other “Minute to Win It” Games

For more, check out this YouTube Channel.

Conclusion

There is no limit to what you can think of for group interventions. Hope this list helped inspire you to find other creative games to incorporate into therapy to lift client’s spirits. Have fun!

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, culture, sociology, philosophy, and more.