Recreational Therapy, a term I formerly chuckled at. Now, I implement it. Recreational Therapy, a profession that is questioned by so many. As a student myself, receiving a Master’s Degree in Recreational Therapy, I am asked daily, “So… what exactly do you do?” With a sigh followed by a deep breath, I try to detain my anger and answer the question.
But, how do I answer it? At the beginning of my educational career, I did what most people do, use Google. However, what you will find when ‘Googling’ Recreational Therapy, are various definitions – ranging from “a career that plays with children” to “working with people with disabilities”. However, if you are a profession in the field, you understand that it’s much more than that. This month, in honor of it being Recreational Therapy month, I wanted to highlight much more than what Recreational Therapy is. I wanted to discuss a more reflective question, “Why does Recreational Therapy matter?” I could do this in several ways. I could list reasons why the profession exists or I could suggest watching a video. Instead, you will get a sense of what Recreational Therapy is and why individuals are studying RT through the eyes, ears, and words of the students themselves. To supplement the students’ responses and experiences, I also had the opportunity to interview two seasoned professionals in the field. The responses vary from student to student and from each of the professionals. Thus, making it interesting to read, and just maybe with the help of you readers, we all can find a common definition and purpose of Recreational Therapy.
Within my interviews I asked questions such as ‘What does Recreational Therapy mean to you? How has it impacted your life? How has it impacted the life of others?” Each response is anonymous and each response is unique. Check it out below!
“For me, Recreation Therapy is an instrumental part of who I am. It’s how I connect with the world and how I make a difference in it. Recreational Therapy allows me to connect with a wide population of people at an individual level, which I find to be a key factor in promoting growth. This connection and growth spreads to those I serve, not only increasing their quality of life, but enhancing the lives of whom they share their life with as well.” – Student, ’17
“TR has completely shaped who I am today. I truly believe this is what I was born to do. I have had the privilege of not only practicing in the field for 17 years, but also sharing my experiences with RT students who are just as excited as I am about the positive impact RT has on a variety of people from all walks of life. Most of my experience is working with the elderly in long term care, a population I unexpectedly fell in love with after my student internship experience. Everyone has a story to tell. I love how RT helps residents with dementia tell that story and find a sense of peace despite the grief and feelings of isolation that comes with losing one’s memories. It is so important to be heard, and understood, no matter your age or ability. RT facilitates that voice through personalized interventions.” – Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist
“Studying Therapeutic Recreation has made an impact on my life which in turn allows me to make an impact on others. Allowing people to focus on their abilities in a world that is so caught up in judging people on their differences is something that TR specialists really embrace. Volunteering in a community setting has allowed me to understand how much Therapeutic Recreation is needed and how creating simple programs can make a huge impact. Seeing the smiling faces as the bowling ball rolls down the lane and crashes down the pins then the laughter breaks is what Therapeutic Recreation is all about.” – Student, ’16
“Therapeutic Recreation means a lot to me because it has showed me a whole other side of the ‘therapy’ spectrum that I didn’t know existed in the medical and recreation field. For someone who wants to work in a retirement home or skilled nursing facility, the major and field I have entered into is extremely rewarding. Recreational Therapy has a lot to offer with a wide range of job opportunities. TR specialists are making a difference in the everyday life of people – whether it is an elder or even a teenager. That’s why this field means so much to me.
My personal story of falling in love with the field of Therapeutic Recreation begins when I was fifteen. I was a server in a dining room of a nearby independent-living retirement home. The CTRS coordinator of the facility was always so engaging with the residents. However, I also would see how sometimes the residents would be left in rooms and never taken anywhere off the campus of the retirement home. Ever since that day I researched anything and everything about this field and decided to pursue it my senior year of college. I am proud and excited to say that in May I will graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in this field. I firmly believe if I never received that first job at the retirement home, I don’t think I would have known what Recreational Therapy was. I’m beyond thankful I do know what it is and that I now have the tools and knowledge to share its definition and purpose with other students.”
– Student, ’17
“I was attending the University of New Hampshire pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Recreation Management and Policy. I’ve always been passionate about recreation (any type of activity, sport, or game that you enjoy doing in your spare time) and it has always played a major role in my life. I took an Intro to Therapeutic Recreation elective course that changed my life and broadened my view on the world of recreation. This course helped paved the way for my future because it was in that class that I knew what I wanted to do for a career. After graduating, I furthered my education receiving my master’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation.
I currently work for the Springfield Parks & Recreation Department as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist where I get the pleasure of creating and providing opportunities for individuals to be independent, creative, socialize, have fun and expressive. I enjoy helping people reach their goals, challenging their skills, being encouraging and supportive. I have met some amazing people and people who have truly touched my life. My life has been greatly impacted and forever changed by Recreational Therapy. I am more understanding, accommodating, patient, and accepting. This is one of the best gifts I could ask for.
One of my favorite memories was when I was working at a residential traumatic brain injury (TBI) facility. One of the participants I was working with was a young man who was in an accident causing TBI and loss of mobility in his legs. We were discussing his goals and he felt like because of his injury he couldn’t do anything. He lost a lot of interest in activities so I was determined to find something to bring some joy into his life. I found an adapted water ski program. When I brought up the idea to him, he immediately shut it down saying that he wouldn’t be able to do it. After discussing it more, I showed him some videos online and the look on his face was priceless. It was like he was introduced to a whole new world that he knew nothing about. He looked at me with a smile on his face saying “wow I could do that”. The day of the event was amazing and extremely fulfilling for not only him but me as well. When his turn came he got super nervous and almost backed out but with encouragement from me and the staff working there giving him confidence, he proceeded. I was on the back of the boat while they pulled him and he was ear to ear smiles the entire time. Then the boat went over a small wake and when he came down from the bump, the entire adaptation ski broke and he fell into the water. When he got on the boat, everyone was talking about how awesome it looked, how he caught air and how that’s never happened before. He continued talking about this experience for months and finally wanted to try new things. I was so thankful to have this experience with him. These types of experiences that create change and happiness are the experiences I live for. That is, Recreational Therapy.” – Recreational Therapist
“TR is powerful, and to me, it is all about providing individuals with the opportunity to explore parts of life that he or she may not have felt capable or comfortable doing before.
Last summer, I was an intern on a short-term behavioral health unit. The experience was amazing! Every day, I had the chance to interact and work with new patients to make a positive impact on their life. I was able to implement multiple therapies and activities throughout the day. Some days, clients would refuse to participate in activities with me, but other days, they were enjoying every minute of it. By the end of their stay, the change in the patient was visible and it was clear how much they learned from our recreation program. Without our department, these patients might not have known about these specific outlets or techniques used.
I believe our field has the potential to grow, as long as there are still prospective students entering the field at all levels (bachelors, masters, and doctoral). As therapeutic recreation specialists, we have to continue to educate our coworkers, clientele, and members of society about TR and the benefits that we provide in order to keep the field flourishing. I also think that we need to create more research in order to help our field stay alive. Without providing evidence that we make a difference in our clients lives, our field will not be considered mandatory for individual’s care.” – Student, ‘17
I hope you have enjoyed reading the different perspectives that students and professionals bring to the field of Recreational Therapy. It’s important to never forget that we too, have a voice in Recreational Therapy. Make a difference and BE the difference.