Sensory Processing Preferences in an Adult Acute Mental Health Setting: A Retrospective Study

Document Type


Publication Date



Pen Bay Medical Center, Psychiatry, Rehabilitation

Journal Title

The American journal of occupational therapy : official publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association

MeSH Headings

Adolescent; Adult; Humans; Retrospective Studies; Mental Health; Sensation (physiology); Substance-Related Disorders; Perception


IMPORTANCE: Sensory processing patterns may inform mental health diagnosis-specific treatment plans. OBJECTIVE: To compare sensory processing preferences of patients admitted with depression and substance use disorder diagnoses. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: Acute inpatient mental health center. PARTICIPANTS: Patients ages 18 to 64 yr with a primary diagnosis of depression or substance use disorder who completed the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile (AASP). OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Comparison of AASP quadrant scores between subgroups. RESULTS: Participants (n = 211; M age = 33.8 yr) had a primary diagnosis of depression (n = 121; 57%) or substance use disorder (n = 90; 43%). The depression and substance use disorder groups yielded the following AASP quadrant scores, respectively: low registration, Ms = 38.2 and 34.3 (SDs = 9.4 and 8.0), p = .002; sensation seeking, Ms = 46.8 and 50.6 (SDs = 8.1 and 9.1), p = .002; sensory sensitivity, Ms = 43.4 and 39.8 (SDs = 10.3 and 9.9), p = .013; and sensation avoiding, Ms = 45.6 and 40.1 (SDs = 9.5 and 10.3), p < .001. These differences persisted when scores were normalized against standard population scores. The majority with a primary diagnosis of depression ranked "more/much more than most" for low registration (69; 57.0%), sensory sensitivity (61; 50.4%), and sensation avoiding (79; 65.3%). Those with a primary diagnosis of SUD ranked most frequently as "similar to most" in all quadrants. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Sensory processing preferences differ by primary mental health diagnosis and may provide insight into treatment planning. What This Article Adds: This study identifies differences in sensory processing between patients with a primary diagnosis of depression and those with a primary diagnosis of substance use disorder, suggesting that clinical interventions should account for sensory preferences. Providing appropriate sensory experiences (sensory room, sensory boxes, etc.) may allow patients to function at an optimal level by improving their ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors.