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What it's like to be a recreation therapist

October 2, 2014, 10:06 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1343

By chelseahughes

If you have a passion for working with people, are creative, and love to share your talents with others then Recreation Therapy is for you! As a Recreation Therapist I provide a front line service in a Long Term Care facility. I am a part of an inter-professional team and together we provide the best care possible for our residents. Much of the time we are welcomed as the “Fun people” who bring joy, light and laughter to daily life through engagement in leisure pursuits. In this article my goal is to help you understand what Recreation Therapy is and what it is like to be in the role of a Recreation Therapist.


Recreation Therapy is a people oriented career path. Health, wellness and quality of life through leisure are at the core of this discipline. The process looks at the whole person and encompasses physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual areas. It is all about making time fulfilling by enhancing and improving quality of life through music, sing-a-longs, dancing, games and quizzes, crafts, movies, gardening and many other group, special events and individual activities.  The benefits of Recreation Therapy are nearly endless. It can develop confidence, help adjustment to disability, improve fitness, lower levels of depression, decrease social isolation, improve mental health, coordination, develop trust, improve coping and self-esteem, heighten self-awareness and provide hope, joy, creativity and fun. This list can continue.

Long Term Care is only one of the sectors where Recreation Therapists work. The beauty of this field is that Recreation Therapists have the ability to work with any population from children to the elderly in a variety of public and private settings. One of the things I did when first learning about this line of work was to contact Recreation Therapists working in different areas such as mental health, long term care, retirement facilities, hospital neurosurgery units,  and pediatric and adult rehabilitation hospitals. This gave me a better understanding of the possibilities as well as volunteer opportunities to help me figure out where I best fit.   

Theoretical foundational models and research based intervention shape the practice of a Recreation Therapist. Also at the core of Recreation Therapy is the APIED process which outlines the steps in practice. This includes Assessment, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, and documentation. At the heart of Recreation planning and intervention is goal setting. It is important when setting goals with residents and family members to utilize the Smart Goal outline to ensure specific, measurable, realistic and timely methods are used to attain the appropriate goals.

Pursuing this career path can brighten your life by bringing meaning, joy, compassion, kindness and happiness to the lives of others through leisure. You can be creative and imaginative in the programs you provide and interventions that you implement.

Adding quality of life through leisure can be viewed as an immensely gratifying experience. It is the simple and special moments shared that make this work worthwhile and so meaningful.  It is a special moment when, after a program, a residents looks up at you and says, “We had a lot of fun today.” When you turn on some music or sing a song with a resident and their face lights up to the familiar tune to bring back affect into their faces and cherished memories into their minds. After working at a new location for a few months and hearing from a volunteer that your encouragement and connection with a resident has changed their level of participation and interaction with others is so very gratifying.

That being said, despite all the beautiful aspects of Recreation Therapy there can be many times when you are challenged with difficult behaviours. In long term care the aging brain can be torn with aspects of dementia, in mental health aspects of psychosis and in rehabilitation with varying physical limits that challenge us to find adaptation. As a Recreation Therapist it is your role to work with your inter-professional team to find out, through research based practices, and trial and error what care plans can be made to better the quality of life and care of a resident or client. Keep in mind that safety and adaptation to meet the abilities and needs of your residents or clients are always the top priority in leisure engagement. I am one of the lucky ones who feel very blessed to say that I get the opportunity every day to do what I love and love what I do.

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