Sensory Modulation
Change your sensory input…change your life © Michelle Taylor


What is it?
One way of explaining Sensory Modulation is that by understanding and using our senses this helps us change our mood or our level of arousal. In doing so, we can experience our bodies as a strength in the world, where we feel in charge of our feelings rather than them in charge of us. The following is another definition.
Sensory Modulation is ‘..the capacity to regulate and organise the degree, intensity, and nature of responses to sensory input in a graded and adaptive manner. This allows the individual to achieve and maintain an optimal range of performance and to adapt to challenges in daily life’. (Miller, Reisman, McIntosh & Simon, 2001)
Sensory Modulation is an innovative evidence informed, recovery oriented and solution focused approach in the area of mental health, addictions and trauma. It aims to support people who are in distress or coping with challenges related to their emotions and mental health, as well as their families, carers, health workers and teachers in the achievement of agreed goals.
Sensory approaches were developed by occupational therapists, initially in the 1970s to assist children with sensory processing difficulties and learning disabilities. Over the past decade these approaches were adapted to mental health and have been shown to effectively reduce the need for seclusion and restraint in mental health facilities, and to improve outcomes for people, many of whom are managing complex issues in their recoveries. Sensory modulation is now used widely internationally as a trauma-informed approach to mental health care and was recommended as a practice to support self management within the Australian National Mental Health Recovery Framework 2013. It is highly regarded by consumer and carer groups and is consistent with current best practice models such as recovery model, trauma informed care and practice, public health prevention model and person-centred care.
How does it work?
Every activity we engage in has a sensory component, whether that is having a conversation, looking after a family, preparing a meal, studying or going out to paid employment. Sensory Modulation uses our senses as a framework for understanding our behaviours, individual preferences and coping skills. This approach supports a person’s engagement in meaningful activities, roles and routines and offers coping skills which do not rely on traditional cognitive or talking therapies. It promotes healthy self regulation and feelings of safety, particularly when experiencing challenging emotional states. Interventions may be aimed at helping people to self-soothe or calm down, distract from traumatic thoughts, increase abilities to focus or attend to tasks, competently carry out important activities, increase feelings of pleasure, hopefulness and confidence. Sensory strategies are identified to suit a person’s lifestyle, preferences and needs and are then incorporated into daily activities, routines and plans for times of increased stress. Sensory Modulation also promotes the creation of nurturing environments for clients, families, carers, teachers and health workers.
What are the potential advantages?
Using sensory input to meet needs can be rapid, easy to learn and to use, require little or no cognitive input, is practical and tangible, and is useful when a person lacks energy or motivation. Sensory approaches promote empathy and engagement, their effects can last for many hours, and can be highly cost-effective. It also acknowledges that many people’s preferred mode of feeling better may not involve talking. Because we all face times of stress, Sensory Modulation helps everyone understand normal bodily responses and one of these can be that it is harder to think and use cognitive strategies when we are highly emotional. Because Sensory Approaches are able to target lower levels of the central nervous system, they can support us even if we are unable to use thinking strategies or language. This may be particularly helpful when normal development is affected by trauma, illness, substance use and lack of opportunities, and for those without fully developed language and cognition including children and young people, and for people needing to use their cognitive focus for work who need a strategy alongside this in order to function at their best.

How do I learn more?
Mudanca provides consultation, training and supervision in Sensory Modulation.
Mudanca also has a clinic where we use this approach to support clients.
Visit Queensland Centre for Mental Health Learning which provides an introductory eLearning Program



Sensory Modulation

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