an inTeRlink feature
The Lowdown on Recreation Therapy
Effective use of leisure time
By Matt Gold, CTRS
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: www.nystra.org.