The YWCA’s Snoezelen Room is a completely customizable therapeutic space — and it’s now open to the public
By Emma Reilly
December 27, 2018
Jennifer McCombs sits cozily in a corner, her body swaddled in a large blanket.
In her hands, which are securely tucked under the folds of the blanket, she holds two bright pink rubber Koosh balls. Her feet sit on a portable foot massager. The room is comfortably dim, lit by various light installations and projections. Christmas carols play softly in the background.
McCombs, 36, is taking part in her weekly therapy session in the YWCA's Snoezelen Room. The space is a multi-sensory, therapeutic environment that can help calm anxiety, stimulate its users or simply provide relaxation.
The YWCA first opened the Snoezelen Room in 2015 but has recently opened it to the public. It's now available for anyone in the community to use for a fee of $10 or $15, depending on whether a YWCA worker is needed for support.
For McCombs, who visits the room with her developmental service worker, Shelly Birnie, the Snoezelen Room makes her feel calm and relaxed — but most importantly, it allows her to take a break from the negative thoughts that often plague her. When she visits the Snoezelen Room, she doesn't struggle with thoughts that she describes as "self-harm, bad feelings and bad vibes."
"I love it here," McCombs said. "It's exactly how I want it."
"Staff like it, too," Birnie added. "It's great when you're having one of those days that you just need a break from life."
Jenny Schultz-Stowe, a community participation worker at the YWCA, leads the Snoezelen Room therapy for clients like McCombs. The elements in the room — from the music to the projections on the wall to the colour of the therapy lights — are completely customizable. Part of Schultz-Stowe's role is to learn each client's particular likes and dislikes, and tailor the room to their tastes.
"I try to get to know who they are and what interests them so I can suit their needs," she said. "It can be educational, it can be stimulating, it can be for groups or individuals — but really it's at its best for individuals because that's where the real therapy happens."
Schultz-Stowe encourages her clients to speak up about exactly what they want in the room and what they'd like to participate in. (McCombs, for example, mostly likes to be quiet and still, while other clients prefer to be more physically active.)
For McCombs's session, Schultz-Stowe has set up the room to be Christmas-themed. There's a projection of stockings hung over a roaring fire on one wall, while an interactive display on the floor shows a mug of hot chocolate. When Schultz-Stowe steps on the projection, the marshmallow moves interactively within the cup. For one of her clients who loves aquatic life, Schultz-Stowe uses an aquarium theme.
The concept of the Snoezelen Room — which is a contraction of the Dutch verbs "snuffelen" (to seek and explore) and "doezelen" (to relax) — dates back to the 1970s. The first Snoezelen Room in Canada was created in 1992 at the Bloorview Kids Rehab, now known as Holland Bloorview, in Toronto.
The customizable nature of the room allows it to be used for a variety of different therapies. While best known as a tool for children with autism, the room can be used for seniors with dementia, patients with brain injuries, people with developmental disabilities, young children, and those struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
"It's really interesting work — I'm very passionate about it," Schultz-Stowe said.
"It's very person-centred, and really helping them to be more and more independent. We really encourage choices, and voice, and a little bit of leadership so they're controlling the room. And that hopefully builds self-esteem and confidence."
YWCA Snoezelen Room
Cost: $10/per hour with your own staff support, or $15 per hour if a trained therapeutic recreation practitioner is required. A one-time training session is required if you don't plan to use one of the YWCA's trained staff.
Location: YWCA Hamilton, 75 MacNab St. S.
For more information or to register, contact 905-522-9922 ext. 178 or email [email protected]
905-526-2452 | @EmmaatTheSpec
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