CDH Psychiatric Patients Find Calm, Dignity In New Multi-sensory Room

NORTHAMPTON – An occupational therapist and member of Cooley Dickinson’s inpatient behavioral health treatment team has designed a multi-sensory room for psychiatric patients to help them come down from stressful situations and regulate their anxiety or agitation.


In the past three months, 87{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of patients who used the multi-sensory room reported lower distress levels after using the room, according to a hospital quality improvement study. Use of this room has reduced the hospital’s use of restraints. The multi-sensory room, previously office space located in the inpatient behavioral health center, is sponge-painted in soothing green tones and contains options ranging from aromatherapy to weighted blankets to help patients regain control.

“This is a place to calm the senses,” says Edward J. Sayer, Psy.D, director of behavioral health. “It’s a place where anxious, tearful, upset patients can go to regain control.” Sayer added that while he and his colleagues do not have controlled studies to correlate reduced restraint rates and medication use with the multi-sensory room, he knows, anecdotally, that patients who go in the room upset come out calm.

Referring to the study, Sayer adds that the patients who rated themselves the most distressed prior to using the room appeared to receive the most benefit. “When a geriatric or an older adult patient yells out frequently for no apparent reason, it often helps them to go into the room, relax, and experience soothing music or a calm atmosphere,” he said.

Sayer credits Tina Champagne, M. Ed, occupational therapist, for initiating the multi-sensory room. “Without Tina’s expertise and determination, Cooley Dickinson psychiatric patients would not have the multi-sensory room as an option.” Champagne, employed at Cooley Dickinson for two years, says the multi-sensory room empowers the patient to take an active role in their treatment.

“The multi-sensory environment provides alternative and experimental opportunities for de-escalation, or coming down from a stressful situation, increasing self-awareness, empowerment, and skills development,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to help patients become calm and organize their thoughts and emotions.” Explaining the process, Champagne says whenever possible, before using the multi-sensory room, patients are asked to rate their level of anger, sadness, or anxiety on a one-to-10 scale. Once in the room, which is supervised by trained staff, some of the options patients can choose from include stretching, deep breathing exercises, listening to music, resting draped in weighted blankets, lighting options, aromatherapy, writing in a journal, resting on beanbag chairs, or any combination of biofeedback or multi-sensory techniques designed to stimulate any of the five senses: touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste.

When patients leave the room, Champagne says, “we ask them to revisit the one-to-10 scale.” Champagne and Sayer say the inpatient behavioral health team — comprised of counselors, nurses, personal care assistants and therapists — has received intensive training in the use of multi-sensory environments. “The benefits of the room extend to the staff, too,” Sayer says. “Calmer patients help relieve stress among our employees.” The inpatient behavioral health center treats patients 16 years of age through older adults who suffer from a variety of psychiatric conditions and addictive disorders. The center is separated into two units, one for geriatric or older adults and the other for adult psychiatric patients.

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