#OTalk – 15th June 2021 – Sensory Approaches: OT in Prisons

This week’s chat is hosted by Charlotte French (@charfrenchOT) and Charlotte Wise (@charlee_w).

Charlee works as an Occupational Therapist in a prison secondary mental health team in Shropshire. My main role has been supporting individuals with symptom management and decreasing distress by encouraging them to utilise sensory strategies alongside a Compassion Focused Therapy model.

Charlotte works as a Specialist Occupational Therapist in a specialist mental health unit, within the North East of England’s remand prison which supports those with acute mental illness whilst in custody. Charlotte provides occupational assessment and interventions to improve ability to participate and perform necessary and meaningful occupations.

Currently, we complete elements of sensory assessment and interventions, as part of our overall occupational therapy provision. This aims to improve occupational skills, abilities and routines by identifying and regulating emotions and behaviours using a sensory approach. So far we have utilised tools such Adult/Adolescent Sensory History, as well as; sensory choices checklist, sensory spiders and sensory ladders, which we have learnt during additional training (ASI Wise Mental Health and Wellbeing).

We are keen to facilitate an OTalk chat to find out about how others are using sensory strategies to support individuals they are working with in similar environments, or across various services.

What is Sensory Integration?

“The neurological process that organises sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively with the environment” (Ayres, 1979)

The prison environment or similar restricted environments e.g. PICU and segregation, can be difficult spaces for individuals to live in and has been evidenced to have a significant impact on sensory processing. By example, individuals spend large amounts of time in their cells with minimal possessions, you have a metal bed frame, thin mattress, small sink and toilet, the room has a window but has a limited amount of light and little/no fresh air.  How would this affect your sensory processing?


1. What is your understanding of sensory assessment and interventions for those who have mental health needs, through the lifespan?

2. What could the impact be of a restrictive environment (e.g. PICU, seclusion, prison) on sensory processing and occupational participation?

3. For those with mental health needs residing in a restrictive environment, what benefit could sensory assessment and interventions have as part of occupational therapy provision?

4. There are physical and cultural environmental limitations within a restrictive environment, how could these be overcome to deliver occupational therapy using a sensory approach?

5. Currently, research into sensory approaches for those with mental health needs in prison is evolving. How could we ensure our practice is consistent with current evidence and streamlined across varying geographical areas and services?

Ayres, J (1979) Sensory Integration and the Child. Western Psychological Services.

Useful websites
Sensory Integration Network https://www.sensoryintegration.org.uk/What-is-SI

ASI Wise – https://sensoryproject.org/

Useful links
OT & Chill Podcast with Gisele Craswell – Prison and Sensory Approaches


Post Chat

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