Sensory rooms in psychiatric inpatient care: Staff experiences

Int J Ment Health Nurs. 2016 Oct;25(5):472-9. doi: 10.1111/inm.12205. Epub 2016 Feb 14.


There is an increased interest in exploring the use of sensory rooms in psychiatric inpatient care. Sensory rooms can provide stimulation via sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste in a demand-free environment that is controlled by the patient. The rooms may reduce patients' distress and agitation, as well as rates of seclusion and restraint. Successful implementation of sensory rooms is influenced by the attitudes and approach of staff. This paper presents a study of the experiences of 126 staff members who worked with sensory rooms in a Swedish inpatient psychiatry setting. A cross-sectional descriptive survey design was used. Data were collected by a web based self-report 12-item questionnaire that included both open- and closed-ended questions. Our findings strengthen the results of previous research in this area in many ways. Content analyses revealed three main categories: hopes and concerns, focusing on patients' self-care, and the room as a sanctuary. Although staff initially described both negative and positive expectations of sensory rooms, after working with the rooms, there was a strong emphasis on more positive experiences, such as letting go of control and observing an increase in patients' self-confidence, emotional self-care and well-being. Our findings support the important principals of person-centred nursing and recovery-oriented mental health and the ability of staff to implement these principles by working with sensory rooms.

Keywords: comfort room; emotional stress; psychiatric nursing; recovery; sensory room.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult