What is Recreation Therapy?
And how can it help someone facing cancer?
by Gretchen M. Gerhardt, CTRS/R
Think about the role recreation has played in your life. Where does it fall on your priority list? Where would you like it to fall? Perhaps recreation no longer seems like a possibility. The good news is there is a type of therapy that may provide assistance in helping you to prioritize recreation while also enhancing your health.
Recreation therapy is a treatment service that aims to enhance quality of life through leisure and recreational interests while maintaining or improving all areas of health. Recreation therapists may utilize previous leisure pursuits and incorporate them into therapy, as well as provide assistance in maintaining preferred recreational pastimes.
Recreation therapists serve a variety of populations in a variety of settings. They may work in community-based organizations, inpatient healthcare facilities, outpatient settings, schools, or even in someone’s home. Their services may be provided in both large and small group settings or with individuals one on one. For those restricted to bed, services can be provided at a person’s bedside.
Recreation therapy involves an array of therapeutic approaches, such as aquatic therapy, music therapy, art therapy, dance or movement therapy, creative-writing therapy, laughter therapy, adapted sports, animal-assisted therapy, horticulture therapy, and more. Recreation therapy is holistic. A recreation therapist assesses a person in all domains – physical, social, communicative, emotional, cognitive, and in some cases even spiritual. Beyond this, a recreation therapist assesses past recreation and leisure pursuits and attempts to utilize these to create an individualized treatment plan.
A recreation therapist assesses a person in all domains – physical, social, communicative, emotional, cognitive, and in some cases even spiritual.
For those with a limited leisure lifestyle, a recreation therapist may provide leisure counseling to identify a person’s interests and encourage him or her to carry out new pursuits. Besides assisting with identifying interests, a recreation therapist supports individuals in community outreach by providing education and awareness of community resources.
For those facing cancer, recreation therapy can provide a variety of services catered to an individual and his or her particular needs and interests. This may also include working with friends and family. As you may already know, cancer not only affects the individual, but it also has an influence on those involved in that person’s life. A recreation therapist can assist in implementing friends and family programming where loved ones can participate in a project together, whether it’s pumpkin carving, storytelling, or legacy building.
Being involved in activities of interest may help survivors build endurance when attempting to regain strength during and after illness. When you are participating in something you love, you are inclined to work harder. For example, a person may find the strength to reach out to pet or brush a dog during animal-assisted therapy when they may not have been able to find that energy previously. The simple activity of petting a dog may provide temporary relief of pain, depression, and anxiety. It may enhance feelings of comfort and connectedness and may even improve physical function. This could also be true for someone involved in a drum circle, a laughter therapy group, or a relaxation program.
Some pursuits may be individual, may be one on one, or may involve groups. Some may improve physical or cognitive function, while others may provide social interactions and improve communication skills. Many simply enhance overall well-being. Sometimes, a pursuit provides a multitude of benefits and enhances numerous areas of function. The overall goal is the same. Recreation therapy enhances quality of life.
What is it you love doing? What are you passionate about? Challenge yourself to think about what’s most fulfilling in your life and prioritize it.
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Gretchen Gerhardt is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle, WA.
If you’d like to learn more about recreation therapy or find a practicing recreation therapist in your area, visit the American Therapeutic Recreation Association website at atra-online.com. Chapter affiliates or state associations are located under the networking tab. These affiliates can put you in touch with local recreation therapists.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2011.