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Wed, July 24, 2013
Bridging the Gap: Recreational Therapy and Its Place in Healthcare
Why is it so many of us Americans are embarrassed to take time for ourselves?  We are largely a society that has placed work-work-work at the top of our lists, while forgetting that “me time” is JUST as important to our state of well-being.  I am often a victim myself and still continue to add even more to my ever-toppling plate, however, I also understand that “me-time”, recreation, leisure, and sports benefit to help aid and heal.  For those dealing with disability or catastrophic injury, this is equally, if not more important.  Enter Recreational Therapy.

Let’s say for discussion you have suffered a traumatic brain injury and your current directive involves remaining in bed to aid the healing process.  You have regular doctor appointments, bi-weekly physical therapy, and a 24 hour caregiver and family members taking care of your personal needs.  You only leave your living room, now your bedroom, to attend your doctor visits. The fully independent lifestyle you once enjoyed has been transformed to the point where you have to rely on someone else for basically every aspect of your life.  Typically, self-confidence is at an all-time low and depression is so severe that mustering the will for even physical therapy is nearly impossible. 

In the healthcare community, we are often more focused on “getting back to health” and overlook the need for enriching activity and fulfilling wellness.  While getting back to a state of health that most closely resembles that known prior to a catastrophic accident is without a doubt of upmost importance. What happens when the “back to health” potential has been reached or an improvement has ceased to occur?  Often these individuals are unable to get back to work, have little self-sufficiency, and end up feeling that their life is all but over.  Yes, maybe they can walk, talk and move around, but often feel like they still “can’t do anything”. 
Unfortunately this is the reality for the majority of persons with a traumatic injury.  Medication is often cited for a quick-fix, but we are going to explore an alternative form of healthcare that concentrates not only on your physical well-being, but also your emotional and spiritual.

Life, meet Recreational Therapy…

Recreational Therapy is a proven medical modality that helps people with limiting conditions make the most of their lives physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially.(1)  It connects what is learned in the hospital or rehabilitation setting to a person’s home life and community.  Recreational Therapy (also known as Therapeutic Recreation) focuses on the current quality of life, taking the individual as they are NOW and attempts to get that person back to some independence through leisure, sport, or recreation.  The patient’s recreation and individual interests are inventoried and the Recreation Therapist helps bridge the gap from what is learned in the hospital to how their interests may be expressed in this new state of being. 

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS) complete a bachelor’s degree in Recreational Therapy at an accredited college or university and also take a national certification test in order to use the credentials CTRS.  Different states decide whether or not licensure in Recreational Therapy is required.  Only those individuals who have met these minimum qualifications can use the “CTRS” credentials. 

Recreational Therapy, used in conjunction with other therapies and services, focuses on quality of life and can also benefit in other healthcare goals.   As an example, less than 5% of individuals with a disability exercise regularly (2).  This alarming statistic can potentially lead individuals to a slew of secondary conditions including re-hospitalizations, increased depression, obesity, and many more issues.

Using games, sports, and recreation is important to increase self-esteem, learn proper social interaction skills, promote independence, and decrease depression.  Often, Recreational Therapists are the people who help “light the spark of interest” in living again.  After this spark is lit, imagine the possibilities and the increase in self-esteem!

“The beneficial effects of therapeutic recreation still have a place in the treatment of diseases, not only of sedentary lifestyles, but also of other conditions which plague the population,” says Dr. A. Ronald Peterson, PT, DPT, GCS, program director of Physical Therapist Assisting at South University, West Palm Beach (3).   Many medical professionals are moving away from chemical mood therapies toward more progressive forms of treatment, including Recreational Therapy.

Imagine again that you were suffering from a traumatic brain injury.   Now you have a dedicated Recreational Therapist working with you to reach goals the two of you have set for you to increase your independence.  Let’s say you have decided to work on developing the skills needed to join a wheelchair basketball league in the fall.  Not only do you need to work on strength training, you will need to find a league in your area, figure out transportation to and from the games/practices, buy or borrow equipment, set a budget to afford activity and learn the rules of the game. 

Without the help of a Recreational Therapist, this could seem like a daunting task.  It could also prove to be dangerous to try alone if you had physical mobility limitations.  What is typically and ideally seen when working with a Recreation Therapist is that once people starts accomplishing goals, not only are they getting the physical benefits of activity, but they also get back their sense of purpose or accomplishment. 

The ultimate goal is returning an injured or disabled person to an all-encompassing, healthy state of being – both in mind and body.  In catastrophic cases, a team of professionals transition with the patient from the hospital setting to the home, including a Recreational Therapist to help assure the healthiest state.   

Core Values of Recreation such as Inclusivity of everyone, Accessibility, Diversity of Experiences, Personal Development, and Fun and Celebration do not change despite a person's change in physical or mental state.  We all strive to achieve such with our personal recreation.  Therefore, barriers in recreation can hinder our personal growth.  Barriers often seen to recreation and leisure for those newly injured are often:(4)
  • Lack of awareness of resources of accessible programs
  • Individuals do not want to be “labeled”
  • Lack of confidence
  • Previous negative encounters with customer service since injury
  • Don’t want to be a bother to family or friend as assistance is often needed
  • After injury, family is OVER-involved or UNDER-involved
  • Perception of recreation prior to injury was negative and not worth participation
Let’s bridge the gap.

Other benefits of Recreational Therapy include:
  • Building self confidence
  • Increased decision making abilities
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety moderation through leisure
  • Enhanced coping abilities
  • Refined socialization skills
  • Energy restoration
  • Health and wellness promotion
  • Increased money management and planning skills
  • Assistance in Pain Management
  • Recuperation of Body Mechanics
  • Returning to work/ volunteer integration
  • Developing cognitive skills
Find a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and get started connecting your mind, body, and soul back to a positive lifestyle.  Bridge that gap.


(1) American Therapeutic Recreation Association, 1996 definition

(4) California Park and Recreation Society historical website content

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