Feeling better: sensory rooms in an inpatient psychiatric unit

Shanti Sumartojo, Sarah Pink, Lisa Spong, Laurene Vaughan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review


The use of sensory or ‘comfort’ rooms in the care of acute psychiatric patients
is an area of growing interest and research, often concerned with their efficacy in helping patients to self-soothe or in reducing rates of patient seclusion or restrictive intervention (Novak et al. 2012, Champagne and Stronmberg 2004). However, it is still not well understood how patients and clinical staff make sense of the sensory elements of these rooms and the items within them, what feelings and affects they engender and how this might link sensory experience with material objects and built spaces. In this paper we draw on sensory ethnography (Pink 2015) to examine patients’ narratives and demonstrations of how their experiences of and activity in sensory rooms or with portable sensory items lead to them ‘feeling better’, and the processes that staff engage in when seeking to enable these experiences. In doing so, we analyse the recent introduction of sensory rooms in a regional hospital in Australia, and the imagined development of these for a new hospital site. We draw on a recent ethnographic study in a psychiatric services unit to explore aspects of the use and experience of these spaces, from two distinct perspectives. First, we analyse how patients and clinical staff use the existing sensory rooms, and how patients are encouraged to select and utilise particular items to create particular sensations and affects. Second, in the context of a planning a new, purpose-built facility, we discuss how the use of the future rooms was imagined and informed choices about the design, location and items within the rooms. By discussing how staff and patients both experienced the existing sensory rooms and how they imagined and planned for the new ones, we will explore how the health and wellbeing of hospitalised psychiatric patients is ongoingly constituted and imagined in relation to material and sensory environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationARCH 17: 3rd International Conference on Architecture, Research, Care and Health Conference Proceedings
EditorsNanet Mathiasen, Anne Kathrine Frandsen
Place of PublicationLyngby, Denmark
PublisherPolyteknisk Forlag
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-87-93585-00-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventARCH 17: 3rd International Conference on Architecture, Research, Care and Health - Aalborg University, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 26 Apr 201727 Apr 2017


ConferenceARCH 17: 3rd International Conference on Architecture, Research, Care and Health
Internet address

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