Advancing Youth Mental Health through Sustainable OT Student Placements

In the dynamic landscape of healthcare education, mental health placements are an essential but often underrepresented in occupational therapy (OT) students' placement opportunities.

This article discusses how ACU (Australian Catholic University) forged strategic partnerships in Queensland to establish and foster sustainable mental health placement opportunities across metropolitan and regional settings, enriching the lives of students, staff, and communities.

Motivation for Change:

Driven by ACUs vision to expand quality mental health placement opportunities, a partnership with two headspace centres was established, each with an external OT Clinical Educator. The decision to welcome OT students into the multidisciplinary team at headspace was similarly driven by a genuine desire to expand services and deepen the understanding of the holistic needs of clients. headspace, an organization providing crucial mental health support to young people, recognized the value of incorporating occupational therapy into their care model. For OT students, the motivation was equally compelling. Eager to apply their mental health skills in a clinical practice environment and bring the unique perspective of occupational therapy into the centre's multidisciplinary approach, they actively sought this unique placement opportunity.

A Glimpse into the OT Student's Placement Experience

Under the guidance of the headspace clinical team and experienced external Occupational Therapy Clinical Educators, OT students engaged in diverse activities to enhance their generic and discipline-specific skills, including developing their own self-care plan. They shadowed mental health clinicians during intake and counselling sessions, gaining hands-on experience in assessment and triage. They co-facilitated sessions, contributed to treatment plans, completed necessary documentation, and attended various meetings. Complimenting this experience students were also able to participate in sensory and mindfulness groups and co-facilitate OT assessments, which included sensory assessments and the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM).

The students played a pivotal role in educating the staff about the role of OT in the context of a headspace centre and finalised their placement with presentations to staff that highlighted the unique contributions of OT’s for youth mental health.

Key Benefits of the Experience

This collaborative initiative yielded numerous benefits. Students gained insights into the youth mental health sector, enhancing their appreciation for the diverse roles and disciplines involved. headspace staff recognized the value of OTs in youth mental health, leading to improved multidisciplinary teamwork. The presence of OT students increased the identification of clients who could benefit from OT services, resulting in more targeted interventions and treatment plans.

Key Considerations and Future Outlook

Successful role-emerging placements with external educators require dedicated planning, flexibility, and collaboration. Factors considered included scheduling, integration of OT opportunities, preparation, supervision, and debriefing. In a regional placement, students navigated personal challenges like settling into a new community, transportation, and accommodation.

ACU and headspace plan to continue this model for future placements in 2023 and 2024.

Future Endeavours

When asked if they would repeat this initiative, ACU and the involved headspace Centres responded with enthusiasm, stating, "We would, and we are 😊."

In summary, ACU's partnership with headspace with the involved headspace Centres and headspace Early Career Program in Queensland are making steps in the right direction to create more sustainable mental health placement opportunities for OT students, benefiting students, staff, and the community. This collaborative effort exemplifies the value of multidisciplinary teamwork and underscores the commitment to enhancing youth mental health through education and practice.

Contacts and further information

For further information on the ACU program

For other placement opportunities

Headspace Early Career Program: 


Farewell lunch, headspace Warwick.

Abigail (ACU OT Student); Bel du Bois (Occupational Therapy Clinical Educator); Sophie (ACU OT Student); Kathryn Walton (headspace Clinical Educator & Youth Access Clinician)

Learning more about the impact of the outdoors on occupational performance, headspace Warwick.

Abigail (ACU OT Student); Sophie (ACU OT Student); Bel du Bois (Occupational Therapy Clinical Educator)