What is Recreational Therapy?

Lindsay Kahl

Recreational therapy, or therapeutic recreation, is when trained providers use recreational activities to help improve or maintain an individual's cognitive, emotional, social, or physical functioning. People who receive this therapy – sometimes referred to as patients – are often ill, disabled, or elderly. The therapist provides adapted recreational opportunities in order to help the patients develop independent living skills and improve quality of life. Recreational therapy can help reduce stress levels and depression, and contribute to greater physical and emotional well-being of the patient. For some, it may even be used to help maintain or recover basic reasoning or motor skills.

Dancing helps keep elderly people more active and social.
Dancing helps keep elderly people more active and social.

A recreational therapist will typically complete an evaluation of each patient to determine areas of focus. The therapist may use direct observation of the patient, assessments, medical records, and conversations with the patient and family members or medical staff. After completing the evaluation, the therapist is able to create an individualized treatment plan, taking into account the patient's interests and addressing the areas where improvement is needed.

Recreational therapy may be used to recover basic motor skills.
Recreational therapy may be used to recover basic motor skills.

Recreational therapy may take many different forms. Therapeutic activities could include sports, crafts, dance, time spent with animals, stress reduction techniques, music, games, and community outings. These activities can provide mental and physical stimulation for patients, and some activities may help the patients develop specific skills. Sometimes, recreational therapy is used to help the patient build confidence, enhance social skills, and even to integrate more into his or her community.

Recreational therapy may involve stretching exercises for patients with physical injuries.
Recreational therapy may involve stretching exercises for patients with physical injuries.

Patients receive recreational therapy in various places and environments. For instance, a therapist might be employed by an assisted living facility, and the patients could engage in therapy within the facility. Schools may also employ recreational therapists, often to provide services to the special education department. Sometimes, this therapy is a part of comprehensive therapeutic services offered at mental health facilities or substance abuse treatment centers.

Some assisted living facilities use recreational therapy to help seniors regain independence.
Some assisted living facilities use recreational therapy to help seniors regain independence.

Typically, most entry-level positions for a recreational therapist require a bachelor's degree with a major or concentration in the field. In the United States, there is a council that offers certification for recreational therapists, though certification is not mandatory. A few states do regulate recreational therapy, and may require licensure to practice.

Recreational therapy for toddlers and young children often involves toys and games.
Recreational therapy for toddlers and young children often involves toys and games.

Recreational therapy can be a valuable part of treatment for people who are ill, elderly, or disabled. This unique form of therapy may work in conjunction with other treatments to increase positive outcomes. For many patients, recreational therapy can help improve functional abilities, develop independent skills, enhance overall health, and increase basic quality of life.

Some recreational therapy sessions encourage the patient to explore ways to better manage stress.
Some recreational therapy sessions encourage the patient to explore ways to better manage stress.
Recreational therapy may help improve a person's emotional functioning.
Recreational therapy may help improve a person's emotional functioning.

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