Sensory Approaches to Mental Health

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified sensory approaches to mental health as an emerging niche in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on this site. This page has been retained for historical purposes. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

Sensory Why emerging? Seclusion and restraint practices in mental health settings result in approximately 150 deaths each year, with countless others being injured or traumatized.1 Restraint reduction is a part of the Trauma and Justice Initiative, which is one of eight strategic initiatives of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).2 The use of sensory rooms is one of the six core strategies to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.3 The occupational therapy profession was one of the first to identify restraint reduction initiatives, including sensory approaches.

Get Involved! When she was a new graduate, Tina Champagne, OTD, OTR/L, started applying the use of sensory approaches in mental health because she had learned about it in her fieldwork. "I had an aha moment," she says. "I felt that there had to be far more that could be done to help clients self-organize, and I started to go to many sensory integration–related workshops trying to discover new ideas and tools." Champagne worked collaboratively with the staff and clients in her unit to tailor what she was learning to the specific needs of the individual. 

The national initiative of restraint and seclusion reduction has brought more attention to sensory approaches and to occupational therapy practice. Practitioners who want to get involved should become well educated in trauma, attachment, sensory processing, and sensory integrations, says Champagne. "Sensory approaches are not all that mental health occupational therapy practitioners provide," she says. "But it has helped to create a leadership role for us, and many clients and caregivers report that [sensory] approaches are giving them hope and helping them and their families in their recovery."



  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). SAMHSA seclusion and restraint. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Trauma and justice. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from

  3. Huckshorn, K. A. (2005). Six core strategies to reduce use of seclusion and restraint planning tool. Retrieved April 28, 2011, from