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Therapeutic Recreation & Rehab Services in the United Kingdom

Submitted 1-14-02

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Discovering Therapeutic Recreation Across Cultures
By Laura Feitz, Indiana University

What could really happen in ten days that could have profound meaning or life-changing value? For me, the answer to this question is very simple: The trip I took to Great Britain. I traveled to the United Kingdom (UK) in May 2001, with 11 other Indiana University therapeutic recreation (TR) students. It was an educational trip led by my professor, Dr. McCormick, and we visited various health and human service agencies serving individuals with disabilities. Ultimately, it was a cultural immersion that allowed for newfound awareness and increased excitement for my major. Although there were numerous other significant personal insights I gained from this trip, I will focus mainly on the TR components of the trip.

The first site that we visited was Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital located in Liverpool, England. Unknown to me, until after our visit, this was the forensic hospital where the worst criminals resided. This visit was shocking to me because Ashworth did not seem to resemble a prison. Of course there was tight security, but it seemed as though the residents were being rehabilitated, rather than punished. To me, this seems to be a far cry from what we typically hear about in the US. I noticed that recreation was a very important aspect of this rehabilitation process, as shown by the art and wood workshops, fitness equipment, and gymnasium.

The next three sites that we visited were three schools that placed a very heavy emphasis on sports and recreation. In fact, the high school that we toured was designated a Specialist Sports College, with their mission statement centering around "healthy living, sporting activity, and the pursuit of excellence." We were also able to visit two colleges, John Moores University and University of Wales, Institute at Cardiff (UWIC). In the UK, they do not have an established TR program. However, their adaptive physical education curriculum focuses on community recreation while TR in the US is typically more clinical in nature. UWIC is actually in the process of starting a TR program, and our contact at the university, Bill Davies, was very interested in our viewpoints on TR and what we planned to do with our degree.

Not only did we get to tour facilities but we also got to participate in specific interventions. At a school for children with severe disabilities, located in Wales, our group had a chance to get involved in a rebound therapy session. Rebound therapy is the therapeutic use of the trampoline for people with special needs and has numerous benefits, including, increased balance, movement, communication and self-confidence. For children with hypertonic problem, a slow rhythmic rocking of the trampoline can help the muscles to relax, a more vigorous bounce can stimulate and raise muscle tone. Sensory stimulation is further enhanced by colored lights, aromatherapy, and the use of a parachute. This activity was incredibly rewarding for us and to the children who seemed to "come alive" with the bounce of the trampoline.

The next intervention that we gained hands-on experience was adaptive Judo, which is one of the programs at an adult education center. There were roughly twenty students of various disabilities present. The sport is adapted according to the disability but the adaptations are minimal, and the main principles are not changed. Our group was rather intimidated when we were told to put on a suit and "spar" with an opponent. The intimidation was not due to their disabilities but because we were so impressed with their skill level! I was amazed at how many of them had taken personal tragedy and turned it into motivation. For some, recreation was a central part of their life, and for the others it played a significant part of their day.

Our final destination was, to me, one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. Located in Lingfield, outside of London, is St. Piers, the National Center for children and young people with epilepsy and other neurological disorders. This facility is for the most severe cases and uses an interdisciplinary framework that addresses emotional, social, cognitive, communication, physical, and behavioral needs of students.

While we were fortunate enough to see multiple departments within St. Piers, interactive music and creative dramatics were quite notable. Interactive music focuses mainly on problems in communication and socialization. The facilitator showed us how she used everyday materials to make her equipment. For example, she showed us how she had tied ribbons onto the strings of a tennis racket and then used it to dangle over a child's face to elicit tactile and visual sensations. Creative dramatics literally had me speechless. Every semester at St. Piers, there is a theme and while we were there, it was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When our group walked into the creative dramatics department, we amazed at the set that had been created and how every last detail was taken into consideration. When the students came in they were so excited and so well behaved as they waited for their part to perform. The entire visit was so enriching and I hope to one day be part of a program similar to St. Piers.

As a TR student, I would like to share my experience associated with accessibility. From what I observed, this is an area that needs a good deal of improvement. I noticed that there were rarely curb cuts that stairs were often the only way to enter a building, and their public transportation seemed out of the question for people who use wheelchairs.

If there were any advice that I could give a TR student, it would be to take every opportunity possible for field experience. There is nothing like the hand-on benefits that you gain and the self-awareness that follows. After this trip, I feel so much more comfortable with what TR is and why we do what we do. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity and feel that it will continue to be one of the most remembered events of my life.

Note: The author is an undergraduate student majoring TR at Indiana University.

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