Using Multisensory Interventions to Address Anxiety, Agitation, and Pain in Adults Receiving Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder


  • Rhonda Nelson University of Utah
  • Erika Hummel Intermountain Healthcare



multisensory environment, multisensory interventions, recreational therapy, residential treatment, substance use disorder


This study examined the impact of activity-based multisensory-interventions (MSI) provided in a multisensory environment (MSE) on anxiety, agitation, and pain in adults receiving residential treatment for substance use disorder (SUD). Participants (N = 35) were randomly assigned to two groups and all received four, 30- to 45-minute individualized recreational therapy (RT) sessions over the course of two weeks during their residential stay. The experimental group participated in MSI in a MSE. A comparison group participated in RT sessions using table games (TG). Targeted outcomes were assessed using standardized, self-report measures and physiological data. Pre-and post- session assessments revealed significant reduction in anxiety, agitation, and pain, for individuals in both groups. Between groups comparisons documented a significant main effect for treatment (MSI, TG) on anxiety (p <.001), agitation (p = .03), and pain (p = .05) measures with significantly greater symptom reduction for the MSI group. Individuals receiving MSI also presented with significantly reduced respiration rate following the intervention (p <.01).  Heart rate changes were non-significant for both groups.  A participant survey at the conclusion of sessions yielded feedback that all individuals who received the MSI (n = 18) reported these sessions were a valuable addition to their SUD treatment.

Author Biographies

Rhonda Nelson, University of Utah

Rhonda Nelson, Ph.D., MTRS, CTRS, MT-BC, FDRT is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational and Recreational Therapies at the University of Utah.

Erika Hummel, Intermountain Healthcare

Erika Hummel is a Clinical Research Coordinator for Intermountain Healthcare.