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The Lowdown on Recreation Therapy

Effective use of leisure time

By Matt Gold, CTRS
reprinted with permission from
NEW YORK CITYVOICES - All rights reserved.

Recreation Therapy, also referred to as Therapeutic Recreation, is a treatment modality that utilizes recreation and leisure services to assist people with disabling conditions, including people with mental illness. The goal of Recreation Therapy is to "restore, remediate or rehabilitate in order to improve functioning and independence as well as reduce or eliminate the effects of illness or disability" (American Therapeutic Recreation Association, 1987). There are several models of practice for recreation therapy, but all see functional independence as the ultimate outcome of treatment. Recreation therapy was recently recognized as the Allied Health Profession of the Month for July, 2004, by the Health Professions Network.

Many recreation therapists throughout the United States and Canada are credentialed through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). The most common path to become a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) requires at least a bachelor's degree in recreation therapy that includes a fieldwork experience, and a test to measure entry level competency. CTRSs maintain their certification, largely through continuing educational opportunities, such as professional conferences and workshops. There are approximately 15,000 CTRSs and New York has the largest number of any state, over 1,100. According to NCTRC, a third of CTRSs serve people diagnosed with mental illness, more than any other disabling condition.

People diagnosed with illness such as affective disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and personality disorders, and who require an in-patient hospitalization, will likely be treated by a recreation therapist. Recreation therapists plan and implement a range of verbal and task groups designed to improve and maintain social, cognitive, and coping skills. A Current Events discussion group can help build concentration and attention span. A Cooking Group can help with organization, decision making, and attention to detail. Photography and Creative Writing can offer outlets for creativity and expression. Exercise can help to elevate mood, as well as build muscle strength and energy levels. Competitive sports can improve impulse control and frustration tolerance. Animal Assisted Therapy can decrease isolation and withdrawal.

Two areas that many CTRSs specialize in are leisure education and stress management. Leisure Education and Leisure Counseling allow people to explore their attitudes towards leisure and free time. Rather than conceptualizing leisure as free time or as a class of activities we engage in, recreation therapists tend to see it more as a state of mind or attitude. The construct of "perceived freedom" is central to this leisure state of mind, and can be viewed as being at the opposite end of a continuum that includes the concept of "learned helplessness." In a state of learned helplessness, we tend to give up, and feel that we have no control over situations and their outcomes. In a state of perceived freedom, we feel skilled and competent, feel free to exercise choice, and become totally absorbed in the activity or experience. Through Leisure Education, people can explore how they can select and pursue recreational interests that can help them achieve this state of perceived freedom.

Stress Management refers to a range of interventions and techniques designed to allow people to better cope with daily stressors, and psychiatric symptoms. Yoga, tai-chi, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation are all techniques that a CTRS (with appropriate training) can teach. At the core of any of these stress management techniques is control. Through these skills, people can enhance their abilities to identify stressors and their symptoms, and utilize techniques to effectively manage their stress independently.

Recreation therapy cannot be an effective treatment modality if the consumer receiving these services is not seen by the CTRS as an equal partner and active participant in the process. The CTRS and the consumer must agree on what areas need to be addressed in recreation therapy treatment, and what the projected outcomes of treatment are to be. Just as the treatment itself must be a collaboration, the assessment and identification of strengths and deficits must be a collaboration as well.

City University's Lehman College in the Bronx currently offers both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in recreation therapy and Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn offers an associate's degree. For more information about the field of recreation therapy, visit the web site of the New York State Therapeutic Recreation Association (NYSTRA), a membership organization representing recreation therapists in New York State:






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