Friday, September 12, 2014

Always a playlady

Have you ever heard of Recreational therapy?  If you haven't, you are not alone.  I will be honest - I didn't know what it was either, until one day in college someone came into my classes to talk about it and I thought WOW that sounds really cool.  At the time, I wanted to become ‘Julie’ on The Loveboat, so other than taking a required therapeutic recreation class during my degree program, I didn’t pursue it.   After college ended, I couldn’t find work in my chosen field of tourism so I took a job in recreational therapy and I absolutely loved it.  I wound up taking some more classes and becoming a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (or CTRS).   

Working in recreational therapy for over 20 years, I have had the honor and privilege to serve on the board in our national association and to work with some of the most talented and caring individuals that you will ever meet.  Even though I changed professions after 20 years, I still very much consider myself a recreational therapist.  It’s part of me and such a big part of my story.  I still maintain my professional credential (after all I worked so hard to get it). 

Recreational therapists work in all kinds of healthcare and human service settings, helping people with illness and disabling conditions to learn the skills needed for rehabilitation & recovery in order to have a healthy and meaningful leisure lifestyle.  That might mean helping someone who was an avid golfer and had a stroke learn how to use adapted clubs or re-learn a functional golf swing.  Let’s face it – practicing a golf swing is a lot more fun than doing boring range-of-motion exercises with a physical therapist in a gym.  It might mean helping an elderly woman to use adapted recreation equipment so she can keep participating in the things she finds meaningful, like a hands free crochet pattern holder, with a magnifier to help with arthritic hands and declining vision.  It might mean helping individuals with mental illness to practice appropriate social skills so they can participate in leisure activities and enjoy life.  It might mean encouraging someone with developmental disabilities to participate in Special Olympics to enable a healthier and happier lifestyle.  It might mean helping an amputee to go skiing to show that there are options and adaptive equipment for many of the leisure pursuits they used to do prior to their injury.  

A fellow recreational therapist used to refer to herself as the playlady, but as you can tell - there is much more to recreational therapy than just play.  There are so many ways that recreational therapists help individuals with illnesses and disabilities. 

I have so many amazing memories from working as a recreational therapist.  Clients and patients who touched my life in a special way over the years.  There is nothing quite like helping someone,  to empower a person not just to survive an illness or disability, but learn how to thrive.  I shared many funny and heartwarming stories with my friends and family about my years working as a recreational therapist.  Memories of helpful strangers who kept opening up the door for a patient who was trying to practice independent wheelchair skills, people were being so nice she had a hard time trying to learn how to do it by herself.  Memories of special patients who were brave enough to face their fears and go out into the community for the first time after a life changing accident.   Some of my favorite stories come from my work on psychiatric units.  Stories like a patient who colored his entire body with magic marker because he wanted to see what it would feel like to be black or the patient who believed he was a shark.   These individuals changed my life.  After working for 20 years as a recreational therapist, I knew it was time to make a change, but I also knew that I would always be a playlady.

When I became a teacher, I brought a great deal of recreational therapy into my middle school classrooms.  My background helped me to use fun and play as a learning tool and it also helped me to identify students who needed something beyond just learning the curriculum.  I will always be proud to say I am a recreational therapist – and even if I am not currently working in the field, it is always a big part of who I am. 

ps-Thanks to Google, I borrowed some awesome photos from various recreational therapy departments across the country, for more information about recreational therapy visit the American Therapeutic Recreation Association or the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification

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