Recreational Therapy has become a popular component of treatment for many health fields, including mental health. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association defines it as “a treatment service designed to restore, re-mediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition.” (American Therapeutic Recreation Association, July 2009) Recreational Therapy services are provided in a variety of mental health treatment settings, including inpatient, outpatient, and residential care. Certified therapists have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in the field and have passed national certification exam.
Recreational Therapists use a variety of techniques to help alleviate symptoms of mental illness and improve the quality of a consumer’s life. Leisure education is often provided, which can help consumers identify what types of leisure they are interested in and find community resources for participation. Many people who are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness have lost touch with their leisure lifestyles or have become socially isolated. Leisure education can also improve social skills to enhance enjoyment and enable consumers to build better relationships. Many Recreational Therapists also use recreation participation as a treatment modality. Therapists will engage in leisure activities with the consumer to improve leisure skills and practice social skills in the moment. In a group setting, therapists will use leisure based activity to explore patterns of behavior and teach healthy coping skills.
In treating mental health, Recreational Therapy can be a versatile treatment addressing various issues. Leisure activity can provide improved daily structure when participating in activities such as volunteer work, classes, or social groups. Certain leisure activities also provide opportunities for social interaction and support. Physical activities and exercise can help improve your mood. Exercise and other leisure activities also can provide a sense of accomplishment. Many of the concepts reinforced in Recreational Therapy align with cutting edge treatments like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The skills of mindfulness, regular participation in pleasant events, and building mastery are all core components in both DBT and Recreational Therapy. Finally, leisure involvement can provide a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life, as well as strengthening individual identity or one’s sense of who they are. A Recreational Therapist can motivate and guide someone experiencing mental health difficulties to leisure that provides the specific benefits suited to their needs. Recreational Therapy services are included in most high quality mental health programs.