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Behavioral Medicine

Sensory Modulation

Sensory modulation helps patients with behavioral health issues reduce their level of anxiety or aggression.

The techniques can be tactile (such as ice on the neck), music or whatever the patient responds to. A sensory modulation area on the unit features a beautiful mural of a peaceful woodland scene, a comfortable recliner and soft lighting—a soothing place where patients can go to relax.

“Our sensory modulation program teaches patients self-calming strategies to regulate their emotions, so there is less physical or medical intervention needed. The environment on the Behavioral Health Unit is compassionate and patient centered. Through sensory modulation, we are helping our patients develop positive coping skills—lasting skills that they can continue to use after they go home.” — Lori Howerton Burn, MSN, RN, Senior Director, Behavioral Health Services.

“Everyone experiences sensory input throughout the day that brings us up or down. Think of all the different things you do during the day, such as having a cup of coffee in the morning to get your day started, taking deep breaths when you’re stressed or turning the lights down to relax. Similarly, we want our patients to learn to recognize things that bring them up or down and what they can do to achieve their optimal state. I like sensory modulation because it involves tangible items we can give to patients. A simple thing like squeezing a stress ball or crunching on a piece of hard candy can have a calming effect, allowing patients to engage with their therapist in a more rational conversation. These are techniques patients can use to fall asleep without the need to take sleep medication.” — Caitlin Belvin, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist trained in sensory modulation techniques.

Sensory modulation is also being applied to the Behavioral Health Unit’s sleep hygiene program, where therapists educate patients about how to unwind as they prepare to go to sleep. Aroma-therapy, lavender sachets, chamomile tea, yoga and deep breathing are just some of the aids used to help them fall asleep naturally.

Behavioral Health

“The strength of the Behavioral Health Unit lies in our comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program. As the only hospital-based psychiatric unit in Arlington, behavioral health patients with medical complications are able to receive coordinated care in a hospital setting.”
— Ramanath Gopalan, MD, Chair, Department of Psychiatry. Read more


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