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Therapeutic Recreation & Rehab Services in Australia

Submitted 5-9-05

Therapeutic Recreation / Diversional Therapy in Australia

Throughout Australia practitioners use a multitude of different titles, including diversional therapist, program coordinator, recreation therapist and lifestyle coordinator. Their role, however, commonly includes, providing, facilitating and coordinating leisure and recreational experiences. The current diversional therapy philosophy of practice describes leisure experiences as being designed "to support, challenge and enhance the psychological, spiritual, social, emotional and physical well being of individuals who experience barriers to participation in leisure and recreational pursuits affecting their quality of life." (

Employment areas are many and varied, including, Rehabilitation and Hospital Units, Community Centres, Day and Respite services, Residential Aged Care, Ethnic Specific Services, Palliative Care Units and Outreach Programmes, Mental Health Services, Local Government, Specialist Organisations, Remand Centres, Management, Consultancy and Private Practice, (

" The term 'diversional therapy' has it's origins in the 1940's when a variety of leisure activities were delivered to servicemen and women and acknowledged as integral to their rehabilitation. Miss Leilia Bloore pioneered the use of activities as therapy in Australia and continued this 'diversional therapy' approach through the Red Cross for many years." (Butler, 2000)

With the 1960's came an awareness of the need to improve the quality of Life of nursing homes residents. A 1967 pilot study, introduced diversional therapy, involving all staff members in providing a programme of reality orientation, games, singing, handcraft and exercises. Although the study was completed in three months, the programmes continued because of their proven value. (DTAA, (2003) Convention Workbook& DTAA History, p.3.)

For many years the Australian Red Cross trained practitioners. The National Fitness Council and New South Wales department for Sport and Recreation also provided recreation training, prior to the introduction of tertiary courses in the mid 1970's. Some graduates of these courses also entered the field of diversional therapy.

In 1976, seven students of the last Red Cross course formed the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia. (DTAA, (2003) Convention Workbook & DTAA History p.1). Interestingly, the first newsletter, in 1977, acknowledged "controversy over the name diversional therapy." (Quirke, 2001 p.7.) This issue has been revisited from time to time.

1985 was a pivotal year, with the establishment of the first diversional therapy tertiary course. The practice of diversional therapy has undergone many changes, from an early activity focus the profession now has a person centered focus, and a strong emphasis on professional development and measurable outcomes for clients. Annual national conventions, state conferences; workshops and regional support groups, enable members to share ideas, participate in professional development and provide input to the Diversional Therapy Association."... graduates of Diploma, Bachelor and Masters level diversional therapy, leisure and health, and therapeutic recreation programs form the basis of a 2,300-member strong national membership." (Stumbo et al. 2004 p.3.)

The term therapeutic recreation, while relatively new in Australia, is gaining prominence. One former diversional therapy course, is now a Bachelor of Applied Science Therapeutic Recreation. Stumbo et al (2004) pose the interesting question as to whether in Australia, "... diversional therapy and therapeutic recreation are destined to coalesce ...., co-exist, or dash ....?' Presently"... the association is striving to collaborate, with many Therapeutic Recreation graduates and students active association members." (Stumbo et al. 2004 p. 10.).

Visions & Challenges for the Future
• Continue ongoing partnership program with health and leisure organisations within Australia
• Develop links with health and leisure organisations overseas .
• Continue to strengthen links with Diversional Therapists in New Zealand and Japan
• Consider minimum qualifications for Recreational Activity Officers (Level 2 members) • •
• Launch of Journal in 2005/2006
• Consider ongoing relevance of the name 'diversional therapy'.


National Council -

Butler, W. (2000) Whence We've Come. In Sharpening The Vision: Proceedings of the 4th National Residential Aged Care Facility Conference for Activities, Therapy and Recreation Staff, 1-6.

Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council 25th Annual Convention, (2003) Convention Workbook & DTAA History

Quirke, J. (2001) Historical Development of Diversional Therapy. Redleaf College of Professional Education, Sydney Australia

Stumbo. N, Martin, L. Ogborne, V. (2004) Collective Voices, Shared Wisdom: On the Need for a Professional Association to Represent Therapeutic Recreation in Australia, submitted to Annals of Leisure Research, Special Issue on Disability - (publication 2005)

History of The Diversional Therapy Association of Australia 1976 - 1996

Presented at the 18th Annual Convention of the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia Hosted by New South Wales
18th and 19th May 1996.


The Australian Red Cross selected students and trained them in handcraft as a diversional therapy activity under the direction of Miss Leila Bloore. The courses ran from 1945 until 1976.

The mid 1960’s saw a greater awareness of the need to improve the quality of care of the increasing aged population. Part of this care included craft, recreation and social activities. New teaching positions were created in day care and community centres, nursing homes and hospitals, and the Royal Blind Society, etc.

It was then recognised that diversional activities were far broader than handcraft alone, and that those offering this service should have the skills and expertise to adapt, modify and instruct a client in the performance of many and varied activities, thus assuring a greater interest and more participation for all clients.

In 1967 diversional therapy was introduced into nursing homes at the time the New South Wales State Government was looking to transfer psychiatric patients from the large Schedule V institutions, to the community.

To soften the impact and to prepare nursing homes for this event, a pilot study was conducted, aiming to improve the quality of life for patients in these facilities. the study involved every member of the staff in some way, with a programme consisting of reality orientation, games, singing, handcraft and exercises. Although the study was completed in three months, the programmes continued because of its proven value to both the residents and the education of all staff members.

Seven students undertaking the last Handcraft Instructors Course offered by the New South Wales Red Cross Society formed the Diversional Therapy Association in 1976. The first meeting was held on the 8th September 1976 at Red Cross House in Sydney.

The first newsletters were printed and distributed to members in 1977; at this time there were 30 members. The first newsletter editor was Elizabeth McPherson, followed by Jeannette Black and the present editor Jennifer Dreise.

The Association published three journals between 1985 and 1986; the editor was Barbara Nash.

From 1979 to 1984 the Association, with approximately 560 members completing three courses, conducted twelve In-Service Courses.

Participants included members from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand who traveled to Sydney for the courses.

The Association has held an annual convention since 1979 and until 1992 all conventions had been held in New South Wales, with then in Sydney, and four in country areas: Albury 1984 - Dubbo 1987 - Tamworth 1989 - Wagga Wagga 1991. Since the formation of the DTAA National Council Steering Committee in 1991 the conventions have been held in New South Wales in 1992 - Queensland 1993 - Victoria 1994 and Tasmania 1995. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Association, the 18th convention was held in Sydney in 1996.

In 1981 the first groups of the Association were formed and began holding regular meetings. There are now 26 groups in New South Wales and Incorporated Diversional Therapy Associations in the six states.

In 1989 a code of ethics and a basic statement of duties for diversional therapists was worked on at length by members of the DTA committee and a small working party, this incorporated a broad aspect of ideas from diversional therapists employed in a variety of settings. A Mission Statement, and the revised Philosophy and Code of Ethics were adopted in 1995.

1985 was the year the Associate Diploma of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy) commenced at Cumberland College of Health Sciences, as a two year, full time course. In 1990 the College became affiliated with the University of Sydney. This course was upgraded to a degree in 1995 - Bachelor of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy)

Commencing in 1995, Charles Sturt University offered a Bachelor of Health Science (Leisure & Health) and Associate Diploma of Health Science (Leisure & Health) via distance education.

A Bachelor of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy) was established in 1996 at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur. This has subsequently become Bachelor of Applied Science (Therapeutic Recreation).

The first New South Wales State Conference was held in Sydney in 1993. The proceedings of this and the 1994 and 1995 conference have been published, providing a valuable resource of literature for anyone working in the field of diversional therapy or undertaking related studies.

The Association organised two mission statement meetings in Sydney in 1990. The primary objective was determined: to ensure that the structure of the Association is responsive to the needs of its members’ and one further objective being to ‘ develop a national /state structure for the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia.’ The DTAA National Council Steering Committee was formed at a meeting in 1991 at Wagga Wagga, preceding the annual convention.

After a period of negotiations between the State Associations, The Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council became a formal Company Limited by Guarantee in 1995, with five State members - New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. To become part of National Council a major decision had to be made by members in New South Wales to change the name from DTAA to ‘The DTA of New South Wales Inc.’







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