Recreational Therapy For Addiction Treatment

Being in a treatment facility for addiction rehabilitation isn’t just about undergoing detox, counseling, and taking part in group therapy sessions. There is much work to be done and recreational therapy is a fun, alternative type of intervention used in some rehab centers to help individuals regain their psychological and physical health. Addiction treatment centers that utilize a holistic approach to treatment include interventions that address the mind/body connection to improve the physical and emotional self. Also called therapeutic recreation, recreational therapy involves participation in certain leisure activities to promote rehabilitation, health and a stronger sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.1 This form of therapy has been shown to be quite effective as a complementary treatment for drug addiction.

What Is Recreational Therapy?

The main purpose of recreational therapy in general is to assess and treat individuals and/or groups of people in order to improve their physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual ways of living so they can more fully participate in life.2

Some forms of this type of therapy might include any of the following activities:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Music
  • Dance/movement
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Sports
  • Exercise
  • Interacting with and caring for animals
  • Games (including video gaming)
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Creative writing
  • Drama activities

 

The Goals of Recreational Therapy

Complementary interventions that include leisure activities are put into place with the goals of improving participants’ self-esteem, social skills, cooperation, and trust.3 Recreational activities during and post rehab help those recovering from substance use learn ways to rebuild their leisure life, remain healthy, and interact with others who are living a sober lifestyle. Therapeutic recreational activities help increase the energy needed for sober living after rehab.

The Beginnings of Therapeutic Recreation

As early as the year 1850 BC, Egyptians wrote about diversion and recreation existing as a way of treating sick people. Fast forward nearly three thousand years later in 1854, when Florence Nightingale, nicknamed the “Mother of Hospital Recreation,” saw to it that patients affected by the Crimean War took part in recreational activities. Nurse Nightingale noted the benefits patients received from taking care of pets, listening to and making music, writing, and crafting needlework. She transformed a wooden hut that stood in the middle of the hospital complex, and turned it into a recreation room and coffee house called the Inkerman Café. Florence Nightingale helped patients get together for singing classes and organized a theatrical group for them to take part in. She also stocked the coffee house with games, musical scores, maps and books for patients’ recreational needs.4

In 1889, Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago, where community services and recreation were provided to poor people, an idea inspired by Neva Leona Boyd. Ms. Boyd realized that recreation experiences given to the young people at Hull House could positively impact their social and behavioral development, and she was sure that recreation would become an important social intervention.5

By 1908, those attending the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy at Hull House were learning games, arts, crafts and hobbies so therapists could interact more meaningfully with their patients. The following year, recreation therapy became a vital role in psychotherapy management.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, activity therapies began to take place at hospitals and became a new profession to pursue. In 1950, the National Association for Music Therapy was formed. By 1990, a text titled “Benefits of Therapeutic Recreation” became a milestone in the field of therapeutic recreation in substance abuse treatment.6 The book analyzed research findings on the subject and recommended further research on a number of issues, including the relationships between drug use and stress.

 

Today, many addiction rehab facilities integrate various forms of recreation therapies into their programs as part of a holistic approach to treatment and recovery.

How Therapeutic Recreation Helps

Recreational therapy exposes people undergoing addiction treatment to new activities and interests as it also provides a break from the intense work involved in recovery. Most individuals who are undergoing recovery for substance use have become used to spending most of their free time obtaining and using drugs. Participating in healthy leisure activities that they also find enjoyable works to fill the empty space in life that substances once filled. This social and emotional benefit is also enhanced with the physical advantages of therapeutic recreation, as it promotes whole-body healing. Recreational activities in rehab has multiple benefits that:

  • Promote independence
  • Instill a stronger sense of self-esteem
  • Provide motivation
  • Improve mental and emotional health
  • Allow for a better quality of life
  • Reduces isolation, stress, and anxiety

Myths and Misconceptions

Because recreation therapies are enjoyable, some people will discount these interventions as a waste of time. There is a misconception that recreational therapy is all fun and games. The truth is that becoming interested in certain hobbies and actively participating in them is beneficial to your cognitive, physical, and spiritual well-being. Playing games and engaging in stimulating activities help improve mood, motor skills, physical strength and independence. These are all essential aspects of living a successful sober lifestyle post-recovery.

Training Required For Recreational Therapists

The person or people leading therapeutic activities in a substance use addiction center are professionally trained in this field. Recreation Therapists can become certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreational Certification (NCTRC) after completing their bachelor’s degree with a major in recreational therapy. Many employers insist upon their recreational therapists receiving NCTRC certification. Therapists then complete an internship in the field and must pass a national examination. Four states in the US require recreational therapists to be nationally certified to practice: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah.

Various Types of Recreational Therapy

Addiction treatment facilities may offer different kinds of recreational therapy. Silvermist Recovery, for example, offers a holistic treatment approach that includes yoga, exercise routines, journaling, art therapies, equine therapy and other recreational pastimes to encourage mind, body, and spiritual health. The following therapeutic recreations can be found at many substance use addiction facilities:

Yoga

The practice of yoga also incorporates meditation and deep relaxation. Yoga has been well documented to help reduce stress, anxiety and the severity of withdrawal symptoms, all very helpful benefits during recovery from substance use. The breathing exercises done in yoga practices, together with self-affirming mantras and mindfulness meditation, all help to fight impulses and control cravings. Tai Chi and other gentle movement practices are also useful in recovery.

Exercise

Physical activity, such as outdoor hiking, playing sports like tennis or basketball, and doing exercise routines to music all help to restore the body and the mind. Exercise releases natural endorphins, which improve mood, as it reduces negative feelings. These natural chemicals allow the body to relearn physical strength and regulate brain chemistry in a safe way.

Arts and Crafts

Creating art stimulates the mind and improves mood. When a work of art is made, the artists is rewarded with a great sense of satisfaction. Even making holiday crafts improves the sense of self and creativity.

Music Therapy

Most people enjoy music, either listening to it or creating it. Music therapy for addiction treatment is a powerful tool in the healing process. It can heighten mood, relieve anxiety, and improve concentration and cognitive skills. Songs and music that are highly associated with memories of drug use should be avoided during music therapy. A person’s newly found sobriety can be securely established and related to new, positive songs to replace old memories.

Creative Writing

Poetry, journaling and expressive writings based on topics meaningful to the individual can lead to a decrease in cravings. It can also lead to improvements in self- confidence, self-esteem, social skills, ability to cope and to trust.7

Equine Therapy

Although interacting with and caring for horses is a form of recreation, it can also be an integral part of working through psychological and emotional issues with a therapist during recovery. This form of animal-assisted therapy provides benefits by increasing levels of self-esteem and coping abilities. Equine therapy is particularly useful for those with a dual diagnosis disorder, those going through addiction recovery and also dealing with a secondary mental health disorder. Animals can often sense a person’s feelings, mirror those feelings and create a mutual sense of understanding. Working with horses can help develop a trusting relationship with a therapist, as conversations centering around horses can open the way to a person’s discussions about their addiction and other issues.

Dance and Movement Therapy

Similar to exercise, dance enhances mood, but it also allows participants to express themselves more openly. For those who find it difficult to talk about their feelings or describing their experiences, dance, a universal language, helps them relax and open up. Movement therapy can be done with or without music. Various movements can be performed, such as freestyle or more choreographed dances like salsa, ballroom dancing or ballet. Dance gives a voice to feelings and thoughts, helps resolve unsettled trauma, and helps release fears and anxieties.

Keeping Up After Recovery

Continuing the activities enjoyed during addiction recovery is very important to sustained sobriety. Once these healthy habits have been established, it’s vital to continue exercising, writing or interacting with animals when living back at home.

There are many triggers you may encounter after leaving an addiction treatment facility, such as old friends who enabled your substance use and passing by places where you once hung out with those friends. Keeping up with healthy leisure activities may mean going to a yoga class on a regular basis in your community or taking continuing education classes in art or music to stay relaxed yet energized and healthy. The new friendships created during these activities can help you maintain your sobriety for the long term.