We all know by now that the environment plays an important role in mental health. What you may not know is what is going on inside that creates that feeling of calmness or tension. Our living bodies are taking in information all the time. Neuroception allows our bodies to process environmental input to trigger feelings of safety or danger

There are actually 21 identified senses but I’ll only talk about seven. Here they are: vestibular, proprioception, touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. There is a difference between sensory processing disorder (SPD) and sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). In the DSM-5 (manual of criteria for a diagnosis) sensory processing issues are found under Neuro Developmental Disorder (Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD and others).SPD describes a sensory dysfunction in which the senses cannot appropriately process environmental input. Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), however, is a personality trait that describes how sensitive someone is to physical and emotional input. This article  Sensory processing sensitivity can help you understand more about physical and emotional sensitivity.

Two Less WellKnown Senses:

Let’s dive in! Two of the senses you might not have heard about are vestibular and proprioception. .


Vestibular deals with how we stay balanced. There is a part of the inner ear that has fluid (this fluid is supposed to be there) to help retain balance and sense motion.  This is the sense that allows spinning without getting dizzy or riding in the car without getting car sick.


The other little known sense is proprioception. This sense sends information about the tasks that ligaments and joints are doing. You use this sense to know not to hug too hard or to know where your feet are without looking. Proprioception helps you know where your body is in the environment.

Both vestibular and proprioception are needed when the body is in motion (jogging, playing sports) and when you are sitting still. Really, when seated your head is hopefully at the top of your body and you feel where your body connects with the chair. If these two senses are over or under simulated, you will likely fall out of your chair.

Now would be a good time to view one of my favorite videos A Child’s View of Sensory Processing – YouTube that helps explain the seven senses from a child’s perspective. Think about Big Cups and Little Cups to organize the seven senses.

The environment provides stimulation to the other five senses (touch, sound, sight, smell, taste).

This article by Kailey Soina Horan, Ph.D., LMHC in Psychology Today explains some ways to accommodate sensory sensitivity in the other five senses (touch, sound, sight, smell, taste) .

As a family therapist, having a trusting relationship with individuals and families is essential. Paying attention to environmental factors is a way of promoting feelings of safety, increasing the zone of tolerance, making sense of some of the challenging behaviors and facilitating mental wellness work.

To learn more about Dr. Pam Rinn or schedule an appointment, please visit Acorn Counseling Education Services.

Dr. Pam Rinn PhD Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

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