Objectives. A phenomenological study explored occupational therapy students’ experiences in psychiatric fieldwork. Of particular interest were students’ experiences with and perceptions of persons using psychiatric services.

Method. Data were gathered from 16 informants, via in-depth interviews and participant observation, on multiple occasions throughout the students’ fieldwork affiliations in hospital and community psychiatric service settings. Triangulation of data gathering methods and member checking were used to strengthen the interpretive validity of the study.

Results. Informants manifested stereotyped preconceptions and associated anxiety regarding persons labeled as mentally ill, though the strength of such beliefs and feelings was found to diminish as fieldwork progressed. Sensationalized popular images of mental illness (e.g., that it is linked with malevolence) and some aspects of academic and clinical education (e.g., a deficit focus) seemed to adversely affect students’ perceptions.

Conclusions. Assisting students to acquire a sound appreciation of the humanness of persons with psychiatric disorders is an educational imperative. There is a need to critically appraise academic and fieldwork practices in psychiatric occupational therapy.

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