Millennial African American man leading friends hiking single file uphill on a path in countryside

What is the definition of recreational therapy?

Recreational therapy, or therapeutic recreation, is a systematic therapy technique that addresses physical and mental health challenges through guided leisure activities. Recreational therapy is much more than arts and crafts: it is an intervention method that promotes healing, self-confidence, coping skills, self-esteem and development. It can improve physical, cognitive, emotional and social wellbeing. In individuals who are transitioning from hospitalization, incarceration or inpatient treatment programs, recreational therapy can help them rebuild a life of leisure, stay physically and mentally healthy and connect with others in similar circumstances or with allied interests.

Who utilizes recreational therapy?

Recreational therapy can be beneficial for everyone, notably:

  • Individuals with physical or developmental disabilities: Certain types of recreational therapy emphasize improving cognitive and motor skills, which can help increase strength, fine motor skills and agility in individuals where these skills are not fully developed or have degraded, or who are unable to partake in traditional means of exercise and fitness
  • Individuals with psychiatric disorders: Stress can worsen the symptoms of certain psychiatric disorders, and biofeedback therapy is a recreational therapy that has been found to help participants identify signs of stress, reduce stress and anxiety and develop psychological confidence
  • Individuals struggling with substance use: Mindfulness and meditation, in particular, can be a beneficial component of a recovery plan because it reduces the body’s stress responses, reduces anxiety and depression, increases self-awareness, encourages emotional and response management and helps identify triggers one may encounter while in recovery
  • Individuals rehabilitating from injury or illness: Physical recreational therapy activities provide creative and low-impact treatment options while promoting independence for individuals recovering from illnesses like spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and surgeries
  • Younger individuals considered to be at-risk: Recreational therapy can include group activities within one’s community that provide new, enriching experiences and the opportunity to connect with others from similar backgrounds
  • Individuals who are hospitalized: Therapeutic play has been found to reduce anxiety and other negative emotions among children hospitalized for brain tumors, which suggests a precedent that can be applied more broadly to people who are hospitalized or living in a residential care facility
  • Individuals who were previously incarcerated: Incarceration has a strong correlation with disproportionately high instances of substance use disorder, chronic health issues and mental health concerns. Recreational therapy as a means of healing provides access to outdoor activities, new hobbies and safe spaces for individuals beginning to reenter society

What can I expect during recreational therapy?

Your specific recreational therapy program can vary depending on your treatment plan and even your interests. You will work with a recreational therapist to define and carry out a treatment plan that has been individualized to you depending on what you are treating, your symptoms and your long-term goals. One thing is certain, recreational therapy will probably look unlike any other form of therapy you have experienced before. The focus of this modality is to provide life-affirming treatment that cultivates physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Recreational therapy programs can include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Equine therapy
  • Sports
  • Games, including video games, board games, card games and chess
  • Mindfulness
  • Journaling
  • Dance and creative movement
  • Creative writing, journaling, poetry, and storytelling
  • Theatre or drama
  • Hiking and outdoor activities
  • Meditation
  • Crafting
  • Aquatic activities
  • Floral arranging 
  • Pet therapy
  • Cooking
  • Yoga
  • Communal outings and activities
  • Exercise
  • Gardening
  • Tai chi

Recreational therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be beneficial for a myriad of physical and mental health challenges. It has been linked to improved motivation, happiness, motor skills and social connections. Recreational therapy can also decrease symptoms of depression, reduce the effects of some disabilities, provide coping skills that persist after treatment has ended and foster a love for a new hobby or activity.

Where can I find recreational therapy programs?

Silvermist Recovery offers holistic therapeutic treatment aimed at improving your wellbeing through an individualized care plan. Our recreational therapists are committed to the recovery of the whole person, utilizing an approach that tends to mind, body and spirit. Reach out today at 724-268-4858 to find the right recreational therapy program for you.