Antoine L. Bailliard; Habits of the Sensory System and Mental Health: Understanding Sensory Dissonance. Am J Occup Ther 2015;69(4):6904250020. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.014977
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OBJECTIVE. In occupational therapy, research has studied sensory function predominantly in relation to sensory disorders. There is a gap in the literature exploring how sensory experiences affect mental health. This study sought to provide a phenomenological understanding of how people relate experiences of sensory dissonance to their mental health.
METHOD. Ten immigrants from Latin America participated in semistructured interviews and video observations of their occupational behavior.
RESULTS. Participants’ experiences of sensory dissonance provoked negative mental states and distress. Participants reported poor mental health following sensory experiences that were incongruent with their habits of sensing. They also intentionally used sensory anchors to induce positive mental states and connect with past occupational experiences.
CONCLUSION. Occupational therapy practitioners should be mindful of how sensory environments can facilitate or impede intervention. Practitioners are encouraged to harness clients’ sensory habits and use sensory anchors as a form of sensory scaffolding to facilitate therapeutic gains.
Because everything was different, I preferred to shut myself away . . . to stay with the few things I had brought from home. . . . I tried to isolate myself in my world, . . . but being shut away depressed me.
I tell myself, “Oh, delicious! They are cooking a . . .”—oh, I don’t know—“. . . a carne asada!” But I am making it up, I am imagining it, and that’s how it smells to me . . . maybe because I want it to, but it [the dish] is probably something else.
Sensory experiences can induce positive and negative mental states in adults.
Habits of sensing vary among individuals, resulting in different sensory orientations to the environment.
The sensory environments of clinics and laboratories matter. It is important to remove sensory experiences that cause unnecessary barriers to successful interventions.
Sensory scaffolding can be used to minimize sensory dissonance, support positive sensory experiences, and sustain habitual occupational processes during interventions.
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