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Sensory Modulation

Whakaāio ā-rongo or sensory modulation is a tool that supports trauma informed approaches and reduction of restrictive practices. It is an evidence-based tool sitting within the Six Core Strategies© and has proven to have a positive impact on people accessing these services. Sensory modulation is becoming well embedded in New Zealand mental health and addiction services as part of increasing effort to reduce and eliminate seclusion and restraint.

Sensory modulation involves supporting and guiding people in using senses such as sight, sounds, smells, touch, taste, movement to self-manage and change emotional state. Examples of tools are music, essential oils, rocking chairs, weighted items and massage chairs. The use of sensory tools supports individuals to learn self-soothing techniques and change their current emotional and behavioural responses to a stressful situation.

Local research show sensory modulation is a very useful and easy to learn set of skills that is well regarded by people accessing services and supports clinicians to use best practices. See the following reports for more details about the use of sensory modulation in New Zealand mental health services:

Learning and development

Te Pou continues to work in partnership with district health boards (DHBs) in embedding sensory modulation. Many DHBs now have sensory rooms and use sensory modulation effectively. This work continues to develop in inpatient and community mental health and addiction services. Our current focus is to establish practice sustainability by supporting learning and development activities across a wide range of service settings.

2021 train-the-trainer workshop

In 2021, Te Pou co-delivered an in-person train-the-trainer workshop to assist DHBs to build their own capacity to deliver sensory modulation training. It provided participants with information about ‘what to teach’ and ‘how to teach’ to enhance their understanding and confidence in training and facilitation. An evaluation was conducted to establish the training effectiveness.

Te Pou has produced a full evaluation report on the sensory modulation train-the-trainer workshop. The purpose of this evaluation was to identify whether participants’ understanding and confidence in the training and facilitation of sensory modulation increased as a result of attending the train-the-trainer workshop. A summary infographic of the train-the-trainer evaluation is also available.

Workshops in 2019/2020

A series of workshops were co-facilitated by Te Pou in collaboration with the local DHBs in 2019/2020. The workshops aimed to advance participants’ values, attitudes, knowledge and skills in the application of sensory modulation. The evaluation report for the 2019/2020 sensory modulation workshops is available here.

E-learning resources

Counties Manukau Health have developed an introductory sensory modulation module. All DHB staff have access to this at Ko Awatea LEARN.

Capital and Coast DHB has developed an interactive e-learning about the foundational principles and practical application of sensory modulation. This is available to staff in the Wairarapa, Hutt Valley, and Capital & Coast DHBs. Capital and Coast DHB has kindly offered to share this e-learning resource with other services on request. Please contact our Te Pou project co-leads if you would like to access this resource for your service.

Please note that both these e-learning resources contain information and directions that are relevant to the hosting DHBs. Policies and guidance from your own DHB should always take precedence.

Video resources

Here is a recording of Dr Gilbert Azuela talking about the latest evidence about sensory modulation in Aotearoa New Zealand. This was recorded as part of the Mahi Rawe Fono April 2020.

A recording of our introductory webinar, "Kapa haka or herbal tea? Using sensory strategies to cope with COVID-19" and other challenging situations, is available below. This webinar was co-facilitated by Dr Gilbert Azuela and Caro Swanson, Te Pou co-leads for least restrictive practice. The evaluation report for this webinar is available here.

Sensory modulation national practice group

The practice group supports the sustainable implementation of sensory modulation across the DHBs. It includes representation from lived experience, whānau and Māori advisor roles, as well as occupational therapists and nurses. Please contact our Te Pou project co-leads if you are interested to learn more about the group. The terms of reference of this group is available here.

National members :

Member Name Organization
Dr Gilbert Azuela Te Pou
Caro Swanson Te Pou
Tracy Boon Canterbury DHB
Cushla Louis-Carroll Capital & Coast DHB
Kerry Weir-Smith Capital & Coast DHB
Tish Mceniry Counties Manukau DHB
Helen Lynch Nelson Marlborough DHB
Andrea Hill Northland DHB
Chris Crawford Southern DHB
Debra Coupe Southern DHB
Cathryn Wong Waitemata DHB
Pauline Humm-Johnson Whanganui DHB
Lauren Flook West Coast DHB
Kim Henneker Hawke's Bay DHB
Nirala Lucken Auckland DHB
Evelyn Keach Counties Manukau DHB
Margeurite Watt Hawke's Bay DHB
Stephanie Van Waas Hawke's Bay DHB
Kathryn Cryer Counties Manukau DHB
Heather Bell Nelson Marlborough DHB


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