The use of a sensory room in a women’s correctional facility: staff and prisoner perceptions

Investigator: Sophie Wiglesworth

Supervisors: Louise Farnworth, Ian Davey, Gabrielle Pitt

Rationale and aims:

  • Previous studies investigated the association between use of sensory rooms in reducing stress and seclusions with patients on mental health units have indicated some, but not significant, stress relieving benefits (Chalmers, Harrison, Mollison, Molloy, & Gray, 2012; Novak, Scanlan, McCaul, MacDonald, & Clarke, 2012) and reductions in use of seclusions associated with patients using the sensory room.
  • No strong conclusive evidence can be drawn from these studies and there have been no studies found that have investigated the use of a sensory room and its impacts within a forensic mental health environment.
  • The aim of this study was to investigate staff and patient perspectives on the use of a sensory room in a forensic setting


  • An evaluation form developed for this study and based, with permission, on that of another sensory room study, was used to capture patient use of the sensory room including: items used, whether staff or patients initiated session, and level of stress felt before and after the session as rated on a 10 point scale.
  • The Adult Sensory Profile (ASP) (Brown & Dunn, 2002) was used to identify patients’ typical patterns of response to sensations.
  • Focus group data was used to thematically examine healthcare staff’s views about the sensory room’s use and effectiveness.

Results and conclusions:

  • Fifty sensory room Evaluation Forms were collected from eight patients. The most frequently used sensory room items were furniture, lighting and music. Patient stress decreased by a mean of -2.68, with a larger mean change in stress found for sessions initiated by patients (-2.88).
  • Five Sensory Profiles were collected from patients, identifying a Sensory Seeking patient used the room most frequently.
  • Four healthcare staff members from three disciplines provided insight into how the sensory room is used, suggesting that staff refer patients to the sensory room to de-stress and for relaxation. Healthcare staff value the rooms impact on the functioning of patients, and identified a range of ways in which improved use of the sensory room can be achieved.

Clinical implications and research translation:

  • Sensory rooms, can reduce feelings of stress in forensic patients, particularly when the use of the room is initiated by the patient. This evidence can be used to encourage future use of the rooms
  • Sensory seeking patients most often use the sensory rooms and strategies should be formulated to encourage patients with other sensory profile types to make use of the room.


Wiglesworth S, Farnworth L. An Exploration of the Use of a Sensory Room in a Forensic Mental Health Setting: Staff and Patient Perspectives. Occup Ther Int. 2016 Sep;23(3):255-64. doi: 10.1002/oti.1428.