When an individual is immersed in a painting, thrilled by the sounds of nature, or stilled by reflection in a labyrinth, leisure activities are transformed into spaces and places where hope is found.
This is what makes experiential therapies so effective—what may seem like fun is a life lesson. For nearly two decades, Rosecrance Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator Abby Nelson, M.S., CTRS, has used its principles to guide clients toward healthy habits and the joy of recovery.
“Our goal as therapists is to be champions of hope for clients who may come through the doors from unpleasant situations,” she said. “Therapeutic recreation is a proven tool that breaks down barriers to change by offering experiences that inspire new ways of looking at life. When a client discovers an activity that speaks to their situation or interests, amazing breakthroughs happen on the way to recovery.”
Nelson has discovered that the range of recreational options give individuals a sense of control and a positive way of looking at choices. This includes making decisions to take healthy risks, such as trying yoga for the first time or scribbling out thoughts in poetry.
In addition, Rosecrance staff link these activities with 12 Step values at the core of the treatment philosophy. This might look like developing discipline to practice a sport, accepting the knowledge that one activity may not be as exciting as another, or taking responsibility to organize group nature walks with friends after completing treatment.
Therapies also foster community. As clients are exposed to a wide range of activities, they do so with different groups of peers. This helps them understand how others see the world and find themselves through each experience. Once a client leaves Rosecrance, they are equipped to develop healthy connections with others who share similar interests, such as the Rosecrance Alumni groups, religious gatherings, summer softball leagues, or book clubs.
“I’m drawn to this field because of the diversity of options for individuals,” Nelson said. “As a clinician, I’m constantly learning something new about valuable activities, and clients enjoy the journey of finding what activity they truly connect to.”
Nelson will be sharing her observations on the importance of recreational therapies at two upcoming conferences. She is a featured speaker this week at the Illinois Association of Behavioral Health Fall Conference, and then she will lead a session at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association Annual Conference September 10-13 in Birmingham, Alabama.