Body and Mind Institute for Dynamic Living Offers Innovative Therapy Model

One could say Tina Champagne has been an innovator in occupational therapy for the past decade.

She made news with Cooley Dickinson Hospital in 2003 when she spearheaded the development of a multi-sensory room to help psychiatric patients regulate their anxiety or agitation.

The goal, she explained at the time, was to help patients become calm and organize their thoughts and emotions. Before using the sensory room, patients were asked to rate their level of anger, sadness, or anxiety. Once in the room, they could choose from options such as stretching, deep-breathing exercises, listening to music, resting draped in weighted blankets, aromatherapy, journaling, lounging on beanbag chairs, or any combination of techniques designed to stimulate the five senses. Patients were asked to make another self-assessment afterward, and in the vast majority of cases, their negative emotions were well-controlled.

Five years later, Champagne was recognized with a Distinguished Service Award from the Mass. Department of Mental Health (DMH) for using that kind of creative technique to vastly reduce the use of restraint and seclusion to control psychiatric patients at the hospital — at a time when eliminating such harsh methods was high on the DMH’s list of statewide priorities.

These days, Champagne is blazing trails again, this time as founder and occupational therapy program director of the Institute for Dynamic Living (IDL), an initiative of the Center for Human Development that recently opened on Birnie Avenue in Springfield.

“We work with children with a broad array of issues, from autism to mental-health diagnoses,” she said. “We work with adults with mental-health issues, and older people who might have rehabilitative needs.”

In fact, the institute offers a range of integrated occupational-therapy and behavioral-health services for all stages of life, from age 4 into the senior years. And it’s that blend of OT and mental health that makes the center an innovative model.

People with mental-health, motor-delay, cognitive, or sensory-processing issues often find that these struggles interfere with their ability to function and engage in meaningful life activities, Champagne said. Because of the dual emphasis on behavioral health and occupational therapy, IDL therapists seek to enhance both functional performance and the emotional recovery process.

“Integrating some of these OT approaches into mental health is still considered an emergent practice area,” she told the Healthcare News, “and a lot of writing and research needs to be done and continues to be done; we do a lot of that, too.”

Multi-pronged Approach

“J.P. is a 9-year-old child with anxiety, hypersensitivities, difficulty paying attention in school, and limitations with motor coordination,” reads a case study from the IDL patient files. “The child attends sessions in the OT gym, targeting specific motor-coordination issues. Additionally, the therapist works with the child and parent to identify strategies and create a daily routine including interventions that will help to decrease anxiety and increase attention during school hours, and at home when engaging in homework.”

The interventions, including environmental modifications, the case study reports, succeeded in improving the child’s anxiety, attention span, and coordination.

“I wasn’t intending to go into mental-health OT; I wanted to be a hand therapist,” Champagne said, but her first job was in the inpatient unit of Berkshire Mental Health Center. “I came to realize it was a good fit for me, and I’m glad I went in this direction.”

At the Institute for Dynamic Living, clinical staff work with individuals facing a number of issues: struggles to develop and maintain relationships; problems with school or work; aftereffects of trauma; difficulty regulating emotion or behavior; overwhelming stress or anxiety; lack of physical coordination or motor control; difficulty remembering, problem-solving, or paying attention; and struggles to live independently, to name just a few.

But clinical services comprise just one of four areas of focus for the institute; the others are education and training, consultations with other agencies, and research into ways to improve treatment.

On the education side, the IDL conducts workshops for therapy professionals and informational seminars for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to people grappling with the issues the institute handles.

“A lot of organizations realize that work needs to be put into the prevention side of mental health,” Champagne said. “In doing this work, it’s nice to be on the front edge of that, and to put all this under one umbrella.”

Champagne, who joined the Center for Human Development in 2008, had envisioned such a facility for some time. Because of her past success in changing the culture of behavioral health and occupational therapy, she had built up a strong consultation business with community organizations. “It was my side job, but I wanted to see if there was a way to make it part of my day job, so to speak,” she said. “I was at a point in my career where I decided to take that next step.”

So she went to the Entrepreneurial Institute at Springfield Technical Community College and met with someone who helped her to create a business plan. Then she sat down with Jim Goodwin, president of CHD, and reviewed it with him and a couple of other administrators. “He believed in it and was very interested,” she said. “So, after continued conversations, he said, ‘go ahead, give it a shot.’”

Mind Games

Neurofeedback is a good example of how disciplines are blended to reach a positive patient outcome. This non-invasive process uses two computer monitors; one records the subject’s brainwave patterns in real time, while the patient attempts to earn rewards in a video game by reaching certain states of brain activity — essentially controlling the game with his mind. The method is used to train thought and emotion independently, to help the subject achieve balance between the two, so he’s not controlled by his emotions.

The technique is effective in treating conditions ranging from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to Asperger’s, substance abuse, and sleep disturbances — and can also benefit anyone interested in performance training, such as athletes.

Champagne enjoys this diversity of patients and therapies, and believes IDL could become a model for other, similar facilities elsewhere.

“What I find most satisfying about being here is, I feel like I finally have a place where I can do all the professional activities that are important to me, and in a way that is going to help make the biggest impact that I can,” Champagne said. “It’s one thing to work in one place and do one component of this work, but with the ability to work in all the different branches of the institute, I can tackle this work from all angles.”

She’s also gratified by helping improve the lives of both children and adults.

“A lot of clients tell me, ‘you know, I wish I had known about this sooner.’ I wish people understood it more, that it’s really, really helpful. That helps continually fuel my passion and keeps it moving. It takes a lot of work to get something like this up and running. Even if the groundwork had been laid before the institute started, it’s still a lot of work.”

But it’s work that’s making a difference.

“Every day,” Champagne said, “I hear from someone who says, ‘thank you so much. Someone understands my child and sees what I see.’”