Key Benefits of Recreational Therapy

You have likely heard of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and even art therapy—but what about recreational therapy? This type of therapy is an activity-based intervention that helps address certain needs among individuals, leading to a better state of well-being.

Bridget King, Certified Recreation Therapist at Riverside Healthcare, offers more information about recreational therapy and how it helps individuals gain various skills.

Bridget King

What Does Recreational Therapy Involve?

King describes recreational therapy as “constantly changing.” Individuals don’t perform the same activities every day. She puts in the context of other types of therapy. For example, occupational therapy focuses on the ability of an individual to complete daily activities such as brushing their teeth or taking a shower. Art therapy focuses on creating an outlet such as painting, coloring, drawing, etc. to assist individuals in working through and expressing their trauma, feelings, and emotions.

Recreational therapy really focuses on reducing stress and anxiety, building self-esteem, boosting mood, and providing a sense of joy. “I think that’s one of the biggest things I see. People’s moods are able to change through performing these activities,” states King. “Also, some people experience really high levels of anxiety being in the hospital. When you’re working in the hospital setting, you kind of forget about that; the fact that these people might not have been hospitalized before. Recreational therapy is a nice way to get their mind off things for a little while.”

One common misconception King encounters is that recreational therapy is just about playing games for fun, using it as a “time filler.” While it is a fun and enjoyable experience, it’s also important to realize that these activities can help individuals in areas where they may struggle—such as socialization, team building, confidence, and memory recognition and recall.

Types of Recreational Therapy Activities

A specific example of an activity King employs is called coping skills categories. The participants work together as a team to come up with coping skills that start with each letter of the alphabet, A-Z. This promotes team building, increases knowledge of coping skills in general, and incorporates education—while also having fun.

“At the end of the activity, I ask the participants to name current coping skills they use and any they might want to try in the future, whether that be ones we just named or ones they thought of on their own,” she notes.

Alongside games in recreational therapy, King also uses movement activities. For example, one activity uses a multi-sided foam ball, with various exercise movements on it. She has the participants stand up and catch the ball, and whatever their right thumb lands on, that’s the exercise the group will do. This promotes movement and energy release, knowledge of new exercises, and coping skills.

Another activity King often uses with the geriatric unit is a balloon toss. The participants sit in a circle and each has a pool noodle to hit the balloon with when it’s near them. This encourages movement and range of motion.

Keeping Therapy Patient-Focused

A really important part of recreational therapy in King’s practice is building a strong relationship with patients, starting from the moment she meets them. “I talk with them for a few minutes, ask them what kind of things they enjoy to do, what brings them joy, and then I figure out how I can incorporate that into my group sessions. It’s really important to be able to know their interests and their likes so the activities can accommodate to that.”

If an individual is struggling with the activity, a break is always offered. There are many areas on the unit where they can take five minutes or so. Or, she offers another option if they feel more comfortable doing an activity by themselves. There are many different ways to tailor an activity if a patient is feeling stress or anxiety.

For instance, one area of recreational therapy that always interested King was the use of photography. “The power of a picture is something that means a lot to you. It’s really strong. So, I’ve incorporated making collages into my practice. It allows the participant to describe their goals, dreams, and things they want to achieve. And, it’s a way to express things they enjoy in a new way, rather than just speaking about it. I also think it’s awesome because the collage can be used for motivation when feeling down.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health services call the CID at 1-844-442-2551 or learn more here.