My name is Amy, I am a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Therapeutic Recreation Program and this fall I started working at West Park Healthcare Centre on the Recreation Therapy team. For anyone who doesn’t know, February is Therapeutic Recreation Awareness Month, so I thought I would use this month’s blog to channel my passion and knowledge of Rec Therapy into an awareness post.
Are you aware of Recreation Therapy? It’s alright if you are not, it is a small and new profession that has only officially been present in healthcare since the 1940s. According to Therapeutic Recreation Ontario, Recreation Therapy is defined as,
“A functional intervention, education and recreation participation to enable persons with physical, cognitive, emotional and/or social limitations to acquire and/or maintain the skills, knowledge and behaviours that will allow them to enjoy their leisure optimally, function independently with the least amount of assistance and participate as fully as possible in society”(2017)
This definition is pretty wordy, however; it does capture the broad scope of Therapeutic Recreation. It is a challenging profession to define because we work in a variety of settings, with a variety of populations toward many different functional and therapeutic goals.
The way I like to describe Recreation Therapy is simple. I ask someone, – What makes you happy? People will provide answers like; spending time with my family and friends, reading, snowboarding, playing video games, taking care of my pet, cooking, gardening, doing art and the list goes on. These are examples of recreation and leisure activities that may bring someone joy, these are the things we love to do and even if we can’t do them as much as we would like, these hobbies/interests are what we look forward to and bring meaning to our day to day routine. Now, after reflecting on this initial answer I like to then ask a follow-up question – What if something happened in your life that prevented you from engaging in your beloved hobby? Maybe you were in an accident and lost function of your legs, preventing you from ever playing hockey again, or you experienced a stroke and were no longer able to play your favourite video game? What if as you age you lose your eyesight and are no longer able to get lost in the pages of a good book? This would suck, right? What is life without joy and fun and the opportunity to do things that make you happy? What if when illness, old age, injury or loss of function does not end your life but instead limits your ability to enjoy being alive?
Enter Recreation Therapist – Hello my name is Amy and I would like to help you get your life back. I will support you in finding accommodations so you can engage in your favourite recreation and leisure activities. This could look like teaching an artist with a spinal cord injury to paint with their mouth using special brushes. This could look like setting up an Xbox with adapted controls so a young stroke patient can connect with his friends and continue to play the video games he grew up with. Engaging in recreation that we love is crucial for quality of life and therefore is something that needs to be considered when supporting someone in the development of a “healthy” life.
No one is healthy if they are lying in bed all day, doing nothing, so when someone is in a hospital or assisted living how can we expect people to feel good and healthy? People need engagement and joy and purpose to feel good, which can be supported in health facilities by a Recreation Therapist.
This is my definition of Recreation Therapy, which is fully reflective of my work and experience. Through my education and field experience I have come to learn that as patients recover from an illness or injury, some changes are permanent but these changes don’t have to be limiting. We need to hold on to the belief that we can live life to the fullness, even when circumstances change. Maybe these new ways of experiencing joy are not what we dreamt about as children, but they are the reality of living, challenges present themselves and we can choose to fill time or we can choose to make time fulfilling. A philosophy I hold toward my work is, rehab teaches you to walk again and Recreation Therapy teaches you to dance again, maybe in a new way but still doing a dance that brings healing joy.
I am going to end this blog with a simple Recreation Therapist assessment that could help you find areas of growth in your own recreation and leisure life.
1. What do you love to do OR what have you always wanted to try?
2. What barriers prevent you from doing/trying this activity?
3. What supports/accommodations do you need to overcome these barriers?
4. How can you utilize available resources to support your engagement in this activity?
Amy is a fresh grad with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. University does not come naturally to a person with a learning disability, making Amy uniquely proud of her undergraduate accomplishments. Amy is working to be more open about her disability and strives to view her learning challenges as an opportunity for growth in resilience and creativity.
She has worked with rehab patients, people with disabilities, veterans and mental health clients searching for more equitable access to community recreation. She believes wholeheartedly in the therapeutic benefit of doing what you love, as often as you can.