Sensory (chill out) room trial: a culture change

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Browne, G, Wentworth, S, Cook, S & Browne, A 2008, 'Sensory (chill out) room trial: a culture change', paper presented to the 34th Annual International Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, Melbourne, Vic., 6-10 October.


Seclusion and restraint are topical as mental health services in Australia and internationally attempt to develop strategies to reduce their incidence. This paper reports on the early stages of a project that evaluates the implementation of a sensory room in an acute inpatient unit. Sensory rooms have various names including Snoezelen rooms, multi sensory rooms and sensory modulation rooms. The Snoezelen room was developed in the 1970s for people with developmental disabilities. It aimed to provide a positive, warm hopeful, calming, recovery oriented treatment environment. Since their inception sensory rooms have been used in a number of settings. These rooms began to be used in mental health services less than 10 years ago. There is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of these rooms in the disability and aged care literature. Studies report no effect to significant change to disruptive, acting out and aggressive behaviour. Use of sensory environments is new in mental health care. Where it has been found to be effective it seems to coincide with a cultural change from a rigid routine in the ward to an environment that values the therapeutic relationship between nurse and patient. A culture that respects the patients views on how they can monitor their own behaviour and “handle themselves”. Sensory rooms are one of the tools that nurses can use in collaboration with patients. They provide more options in crisis management by focusing on early intervention and prevention.