Deborah Pitts PhD, OTR/L, BCMH, CPRP, FAOTA
Professor of Clinical Occupational Therapy
Deborah Pitts PhD, OTR/L, BCMH, CPRP, FAOTA is a professor of clinical occupational therapy in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Her practice expertise includes community-based mental health and psychiatric rehabilitation, in particular permanent supportive housing, and the ‘lived experience’ of recovery for persons labeled with psychiatric disorders, in particular occupational engagement and psychosis. She has provided consultation to local and statewide providers of community-based mental health and psychiatric rehabilitation services in California, and previously served as a CARF behavioral health surveyor. She has conducted numerous workshops and published in the occupational therapy, psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health literature on these topics as well. Her doctoral dissertation focused on practice reasoning of front-line service providers (i.e., Personal Service Coordinators) in a community-based mental health wrap-around program known as a Full-Service Partnership (FSP) serving persons labeled with psychiatric disabilities. More recently she has taken the lead for the Chan Division’s participation in the USC Homeless Initiative through her partnerships with local organizations providing services to persons experiencing homelessness to create student learning opportunities.
She has served in various volunteer leadership roles for the American Occupational Therapy Association including Mental Health Special Interest Section (MHSIS) Chairperson (2003–2006), MHSIS Professional Development Liaison (2006–2009), Chairperson for Adhoc Workgroup on Strengthening Occupational Therapy in Mental Health (2004–2005), Chairperson, AOTASB Expert Panel on Board Certification in Mental Health (2006–2009), Mental Health Representative, Board for Advance & Specialty Certification (2008–2009), and the AOTA Representative to the World Federation of Occupational Therapy International Advisory Group on Mental Health (2009–2014). Since 2018 she has served as the Co-Chair, AOTA Psychosis Community of Practice (CoP) and most recently was appointed to serve on the AOTA Occupational Therapy Advanced Certification Commission. In addition, she serves as a member of the California Behavioral Health Planning Council and the California Department of Health Care Services Behavioral Health Strategic Advisory Committee.
In acknowledgement of her long-standing commitment to advocating for the role of occupational therapy in mental health, she was the recipient of the 2011 Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Practice Award and the 2017 OTAC Award of Excellence. In 2019, she was named to the Roster of Fellows of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
in Occupational Science
2012 | University of Southern California
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
1988 | Pepperdine University
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
in Occupational Therapy
1974 | San Jose State University
Henwood, B. F., Rhoades, H., Lahey, J., Pynoos, J., Pitts, D. B., & Brown, R. T. (2020). Examining fall risk among formerly homeless older adults living in permanent supportive housing. Health and Social Care in the Community, 28(3), 842-849. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12915 Show abstract
Although permanent supportive housing (PSH) has been credited with a decline in the number of chronically homeless adults in the United States since 2007, the extent to which PSH can accommodate the needs of a prematurely aging population, including reducing the likelihood of falls, is unclear. The objective of this study is to examine the prevalence and correlates of falls with a sample of 237 tenants (45‐ to 80‐year olds) from two PSH programmes in Los Angeles from 1 January 2017 to 10 August 2017. We also explore the location and severity of fall‐related injury using a subsample of 66 tenants. Standard surveys queried demographics, health status, history of homelessness and falls. Multivariable logistic regression assessed the correlates of falling in the past year. More than half of the sample had fallen and more than 40% had multiple falls in the past year. Functional impairment, frailty and persistent pain were all associated with increased fall risk. For the 66 tenants who provided more detailed fall information, more than 40% fell at home and of those nearly half fell in their bathroom. Fall‐related injuries were common, with more than one‐third of the subsample experiencing serious injury. These findings suggest that fall prevention is needed in PSH but that more research is needed to understand the degree to which individual and environmental risk factors are contributing to falls.
Henwood, B. F., Lahey, J., Rhoades, H., Pitts, D. B., Pynoos, J., & Brown, R. T. (2019). Geriatric conditions among formerly homeless older adults living in permanent supportive housing. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 34(6), 802–803. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-018-4793-z Show abstract
Pitts, D. ., & Braveman, B. (2019). Integrated behavioral health and primary care. In C. Brown, V. C. Stoffel, & J. P. Muñoz (Eds.), Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation (2nd ed., pp. 722-379). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.
Pitts, D. B. (2019). The home environment: Permanent supportive housing. In C. Brown, V. C. Stoffel, & J. P. Muñoz (Eds.), Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation (2nd ed., pp. 554-572). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis. Show abstract
Milman, T., & Pitts, D. B. (2018, March). Contemporary issues on supervision in community mental health practice [Continuing Education]. OT Practice, CEA0318, CE1–CE9. Full text Show abstract
This article will introduce and provide examples of two broad contemporary approaches that supervisors can use to strengthen mental health practice: reflective supervision and recovery-oriented supervision. Reflective supervision supports supervisees’ capacity for deep reflection and intentional action, and recovery-oriented supervision applies concepts from the recovery model to supervision, to empower supervisees to embrace the recovery model in practice.
Pitts, D., & McIntyre, E. (2016). Expression and occupation (psychodynamic perspectives). In T. Krupa, B. Kirsch, D. Pitts, & E. Fossey (Eds.), Bruce & Borg's psychosocial frames of reference (4th ed., pp. 211-226). Thorofare, NJ: Slack Publishing. Full text
Pitts, D., & McIntyre, E. (2016). Health promotion and wellness for persons with psychiatric disabilities. In T. Krupa, B. Kirsch, D. Pitts, & E. Fossey (Eds.), Bruce & Borg's psychosocial frames of reference (4th ed., pp. 245-264). Thorofare, NJ: Slack Publishing. Full text
Pitts, D., & McIntyre, E. (2016). Recovery frameworks. In T. Krupa, B. Kirsch, D. Pitts, & E. Fossey (Eds.), Bruce & Borg's psychosocial frames of reference (4th ed., pp. 37-56). Thorofare, NJ: Slack Publishing. Full text
Krupa, T., Kirsch, B., Pitts, D., & Fossey, E. (Eds.) (2016). Bruce & Borg's psychosocial frames of reference (4th ed.). Thorofare, NJ: Slack Publishing. Full text
Mahaffey, L., Burson, K. A., Januszewski, C., Pitts, D. B., & Preissner, K. (2015). Role for occupational therapy in community mental health: Using policy to advance scholarship of practice. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 29(4), 397-410. https://doi.org/10.3109/07380577.2015.1051689 Show abstract
Occupational therapists must be aware of professional and policy trends. More importantly, occupational therapists must be involved in efforts to influence policy both for the profession and for the people they serve (Bonder, 1987). Using the state of Illinois as an example, this article reviews the policies and initiatives that impact service decisions for persons with psychiatric disabilities as well as the rationale for including occupational therapy in community mental health service provision. Despite challenges in building a workforce of occupational therapists in the mental health system, this article makes the argument that the current climate of emerging policy and litigation combined with the supporting evidence provides the impetus to strengthen mental health as a primary area of practice. Implications for scholarship of practice related to occupational therapy services in community mental health programs for individuals with psychiatric disability are discussed.
Pitts, D., & Hayes, S. (2013). Assessment. In P. Nemec & K. Furlong-Norman (Eds.), Best practices in psychiatric rehabilitation. Linthicum, MD: Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2010). Work as occupation. In C. Brown & V. C. Stoffel (Eds.), Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2010). Evaluation in mental health occupational therapy. In M. K. Scheinholtz (Ed.), Occupational therapy in mental health: Considerations for advanced practice (pp. 115-134). Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text
Pitts, D. B., & Gray, K. W. (2010). Collaborative work with teams and policymakers. In M. K. Scheinholtz (Ed.), Occupational therapy in mental health: Considerations for advanced practice. Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2010). Supported housing: Creating a sense of home. In C. Brown & V. C. Stoffel (Eds.), Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2009). Introduction to special section on occupational therapy [Guest editorial]. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 32(3), 151-154. https://doi.org/10.2975/32.3.2009.151.154
Krupa, T., Fossey, E., Anthony, W. A., Brown, C., & Pitts, D. B. (2009). Doing daily life: How occupational therapy can inform psychiatric rehabilitation practice. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 32(3), 155-161. https://doi.org/10.2975/32.3.2009.155.161 Show abstract
Topic. This paper provides an overview of occupational therapy in the context of psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health recovery.
Purpose. The paper delineates practical aspects of occupational therapy's involvement in the mental health field with a discussion of occupation and the elements of conceptual models that guide the practice of occupational therapy.
Sources Used. CINAHL, Psych Info, Medline.
Conclusion. Occupational therapy is a key discipline in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation and brings to the field a strong theoretical and knowledge base along with unique procedures and practices. It is important for the psychiatric rehabilitation field to learn from all disciplines, including occupational therapy.
St. George, L., & Pitts, D. B. (2006). Assessment. In M. S. Salzer (Ed.), Psychiatric rehabilitation skills in practice: A CPRP preparation and skills workbook. McLean, VA: United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. Full text
Bola, J., & Pitts, D. B. (2005). Assessing the scientific status of “schizophrenia”. In S. A. Kirk (Ed.), Mental disorders in the social environment: Critical perspectives (pp. 120-136). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2005). Evaluation and assessment. In E. Cara & A. MacRae (Eds.), Psychosocial occupational therapy: A clinical practice (2nd ed., pp. 477-507). Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2004, March 8). Understanding the experience of recovery for persons labeled with psychiatric disabilities. OT Practice, 9(5), 8-10. Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text
Pitts, D. B. (2001, December). Assertive community treatment: A brief introduction. AOTA Mental Health Special Interest Section Quarterly, 24(4), 1-2. Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text
Vaccaro, J. V., & Pitts, D. B. (1996). Psychiatric rehabilitation in community settings. In J. V. Vaccaro & G. H. Clark, Jr. (Eds.), Practicing psychiatry in the community: A manual (pp. 77-88). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press. Full text
Vaccaro, J. V., Pitts, D. B., & Wallace, C. J. (1992). Functional assessment in psychiatric rehabilitation. In R. P. Liberman (Ed.), Handbook of psychiatric rehabilitation. New York, NY: MacMillan.
Four new, early-stage projects selected for internal research funding >
Aims of projects include increasing social connections in mental health clubhouses, improving return-to-work, developing trauma-informed framework for minoritized families of autistic girls and better understanding autistic sensory strengths
February 3, 2023
OTD Alumni Talk About Finding Their First OT Jobs >
As many of our Master’s students have already applied to the OTD Program and some continue to consider their options for next year, five recent alumni from our OTD Program — Ana Sanchez, Elissa Taylor, Nicole Wright, Ozan Yay, and Patrice Zhao — discuss their experiences searching and applying…
January 8, 2021
The Doctor(ate) is in >
As many of our Accelerated Master's to OTD students begin to plan for the doctoral program next year, four current OTD students — Kaitlyn Cruz, Laryssa Green, Keilani Phillips, and Phillip Lee — discuss their experiences with our Student Ambassador Etta.
February 21, 2019
Pitts named 2019 AOTA Fellow >
Award recognizes Pitts' career-long expertise in, and advocacy for, mental and behavioral health.
November 14, 2018
China Initiative Visits Beijing and Kunming | March–April 2018 >
Purpose In March and April, members of the USC Chan China Initiative team traveled to Beijing and Kunming. In Beijing, they visited the PKU 6th Hospital (Peking Mental Health Institute), the Beijing Haidian District Maternal and Child Health Care Hospital and the Xueyuan Road Community Service…
February 15, 2018
8 Trojans to be honored with OTAC awards >
By Mike McNulty Eight Trojans have been named recipients of annual awards presented by the Occupational Therapy Association of California, a non-profit professional society that represents the interests of the more than 15,000 occupational therapy practitioners working in California. Associate Chair…
September 27, 2017
5 awardees and 82 presenters slated for OTAC 2014 conference >
By Mike McNulty Five USC Trojans received awards and 82 Trojans presented during the 2014 conference of the Occupational Therapy Association of California, October 16-19 in Pasadena. Assistant clinical professor Sarah Bream received the Award of Appreciation, alumna Diane Mayfield received the…
October 3, 2014
85 Trojans representing at 2013 OTAC conference >
85 Trojan alumni and faculty will be presenting at the 2013 Conference of the Occupational Therapy Association of California, Oct. 24-27 at the Sacramento (Calif.) Convention Center. On the evening of Friday Oct. 25, be sure to join your USC Trojan Family at the conference's alumni cocktail mixer.…
October 22, 2013
Deborah Pitts appointed to California Mental Health Planning Council >
Assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy Deborah Pitts PhD ’12, MBA, OTR/L, BCMH, CPRP, has been appointed to the California Mental Health Planning Council of the California Department of Health Care Services. The CMHPC, comprised of 32 members, is charged by both federal and state…
June 28, 2013
128 Trojans Presenting at 2013 AOTA Conference >
128 USC alumni, faculty, and students are scheduled to present at the 2013 Conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association, April 25-28 at the San Diego Convention Center. Presentation formats include a pre-conference institute, workshops, short courses, research and professional posters…
April 23, 2013
46 Trojans Presenting at OTAC 2012 >
46 USC faculty, alumni, and students are scheduled to present lectures and/or posters during the Occupational Therapy Association of California 2012 Conference, October 4-7 in Pasadena. Click below to view the full list of USC presenters, to plan your conference accordingly, and remember to reunite…
October 1, 2012
USC Faculty and Alums Honored at OTAC Awards >
Congratulations to the USC faculty and alumni who received awards at the 35th Annual OTAC Conference! Erna Blanche — Award of Excellence Deborah Pitts — OT Practice Award Heather Kitching — Janice Matsutsuyu Outstanding Service Award Heidi Pendleton — Lifetime Achievement Award Michelle…
October 17, 2011