You may or may not know that “feelings” are more than emotions; they are neurologically based in sensation. Sensation bridges our physical, mental, and emotional experiences and provides us with the input we need in order to do our everyday activities…no matter how we feel about them! (see what I did there?)

Evidence now exists to show that emotion, typically seen as the primary motivator for human behavior, actually has neural links to physical, cognitive, and survival sensations and thus the word “feeling” has a much more broad meaning that is often or was once, implied.

“The experience of sensory information is itself shaped by internal motivational states, task-relevant goals, and history of experience. Such motivationally modulated sensory experience then acts to guide cognition and behavior in a way that allows us to maximize our acquisition of biological resources (i.e., nutrients, shelter, reproductive opportunities) while simultaneously minimizing our exposure to threat” (Kryklywy et. al, 2020).

Sensory processing is a part of EVERYTHING we DO, consciously and subconsciously!

When I first began practicing in the field of sensory integration, I felt like a secret door had been opened. I felt finally able to explain things that were confusing to others (and to me) and it gave me hope that children who were hard to work with or who seemed resistant to intervention, might be more easily influenced and supported to have easier lives. That hope has translated into reality many times over. Yet, I have been left many times wondering…if I/we struggle to understand the neurobiological underpinnings and struggle to gain consistency in terminology and training and how I/we as a profession approach intervention, how do we begin to accurately and effectively explain things to parents?

One of my answers…visuals. Visuals that change depending on the client and family. Visuals that are sometimes hand-drawn on blank paper in the moment and sometimes pre-made and formalized for repeat use. Visuals that make sense to you, so that whatever concept you are explaining gets explained with confidence. The visuals I like to use are elevated to a plastic sleeve that sits on my shelf for quick retrieval mid-session. I can also then draw on them; clarify with circles and arrows and elaborate on what the parent finds most confusing or most relevant. Most importantly, I am able to further the conversation in a short amount of time and hopefully with little effort on the part of parents, because of these visuals.

My most recent visual of the “feeling” brain received many comments and shares, as did a few others recently about autonomic arousal (directly linked to how we feel) and tracking. I’ve combined all 5 of these visuals into a FREE downloadable client education packet.

Note…the lines and labels on the brain image are accurately placed. You can download this one and my set of co-regulation visuals HERE.

When we “sense” something it directly impacts our autonomic arousal, results in an emotion that drives thinking and how we “see”/approach the situation, and all of this drives our actions and interactions, which leads others to respond based on their own “feelings.” By sorting through our own feelings (which is the crux of autonomic mapping and tracking…more on that in an upcoming post), we establish a foundation for being ready to help others sort through theirs. ALL of this happens at a neurological level and serves as the basis of co-regulation. Sensation supports co-regulation and I hope these visuals help you build these skills with your clients!

Enrollment for the Sensory Collective opens soon! If you are a pediatric OT in private practice, with 3-5 years of clinical experience and wanting to elevate and refine your clinical reasoning, you can find more information HERE. We’d love to have you in our group!

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