Quick Tips for Therapists

Using Tactile and Proprioceptive Activities to Help Clients with Emotional Dysregulation and Anxiety

By Barbara Neiman, author of The Adopted Teen Workbook

Adolescent and young adult clients might demonstrate anxiety and dysregulation: squirming, fidgeting, and acting unsettled. Using a tactile medium or pushing movements (proprioception) might help the client make a transition from their fast-paced visual or digital experience to a slower, present-moment talking-and-feeling expression. Proprioceptive activities (information to the joints and muscles that tells us where the body is in space) can be done in the chair. This trauma-informed and self-paced movement approach enables the client’s lower-brain input to become more focused, and to step out of the cycle of fight or flight. The activities are graded 1-4, indicating the least to the most movement. Introduce the activities by saying: “I learned a new activity that helps your brain get organized. Would you like to try it?”

Here are new activities to try as a segue into talking:

1) Weighted lap pad or blanket:

Invite the client to place a weighted lap pad or blanket on them to their comfort level. Say, “Use this in whatever way makes you comfortable.”

2) Kinetic sand:

Present a container large enough for both hands, filled with kinetic sand. The therapist might want to also have their own container to demonstrate. Encourage the client to push and mold the sand.

3) Pressing hands:

Demonstrate to the client the position of placing palms together, fingers touching, with elbows relaxed. Press both hands together firmly. Say, “Position your hands like this,” (clinician demonstrates). Say, “How does it feel to press your hands together?” Repeat to client’s choice.

4) Chair push-up:

Give instructions to “Place your hands under your thighs on the outer side of your legs, flat on the chair as if you are sitting on your hands,” (clinician demonstrates). “Then, press your hands into the chair and try to lift your body,” (clinician demonstrates). Check in with the client to see how that felt.

Book Titles: The Adopted Teen Workbook

Barbara Neiman is a pediatric occupational therapist of thirty-five years, yoga teacher, body-mind centering practitioner, and national speaker on trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness strategies for professionals and adoption. Barbara is author of Mindfulness and Yoga Skills for Children and Adolescents and the card deck, My Calm Place. She is an adoptive parent who accompanied her young adult on a birth search journey.

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Quick Tips for Therapists