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Recreational Therapy for Addiction Treatment in South Florida

Written by Megan Hull

& Medically Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LPC

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Last Updated - 12/28/2022

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Updated 12/28/2022

Key Takeaways

  • Recreational therapy is used to improve a person’s well-being and happiness
  • Recreational therapy is used to address various mental and physical health issues, including addiction
  • Therapeutic recreation involves countless activities like arts and crafts, music and dance, sports, group outings and animal-assisted activities to achieve goals
  • Recreational therapy is used as an individual treatment or as a complement to other professional services

Using techniques that involve art, dance, music, sports and social gatherings, recreational therapy helps people find new ways to cope in recovery.

As an available form of treatment for a variety of issues, including substance use and mental health disorders, recreational therapy can help improve the health and wellness of an individual. Recreation therapy — sometimes called therapeutic recreation — may add a level of support and symptom improvement other treatments cannot match.

What Is Recreational Therapy?

Recreational therapy is a treatment designed to use recreational skills and other activities as tools to address illnesses and limitations of the individual. These limitations could be psychological, physical, social or spiritual. Anything that stands in the way of happiness and a person’s functioning could benefit from rec therapy.

What is therapeutic recreation? Recreational therapy is an effective way to improve someone’s:

  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Relationships and communication
  • Recovery
  • Independence

In this way, recreational therapy programs are not only interested in reducing the unwanted side effects or symptoms of a problem. Instead, they focused on improving all aspects of a person’s life.

History of Recreational Therapy

Some form of recreational therapy has always been present in various types of treatment for mental and physical health conditions. In 1984, the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) was established to propel recreational therapists forward. The organization believes:

  • Recreational therapy should be grounded in assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation and documentation (APIED)
  • Recreational therapy should be evidence-based
  • Therapeutic recreation can be provided in various settings

How Therapeutic Recreation Works in Addiction Treatment

From the outside, it may seem like recreational therapy is only people playing games or making crafts, but the activities are therapeutic and tailored specifically to the person. Therapeutic recreation is a formal treatment style conducted by trained experts.

These experts employ the skills associated with APIED to address addiction as they would any other mental and physical health issues a person is confronting. They will:

  • Assess the person to understand their goals, supports, stressors and current status
  • Plan a series of strategies to move the individual toward their established goals
  • Intervene with skills from the planning stage
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and the interventions incorporated
  • Document the experience to track the procedures

Therapists will build a recreation therapy treatment plan based on the individual’s specific needs and symptoms. This step is always important because someone with long-term and frequent use of heroin will likely benefit from different interventions than someone with short-term marijuana use. In this way, recreation therapy is always an individualized treatment. When treatment is unique and expertly tailored to the specific person, there is a greater chance of success from the level of care.

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Recreational Therapy Goals in Addiction Recovery

Recreational therapy interventions interact nicely with addiction recovery measures. For people with substance abuse issues, recreation therapy goals and interventions are all aimed at helping with the recovery process.

Recreational therapy goals and objectives in addiction recovery begin with reducing the use of problematic substances. The undesirable use of alcohol, illicit drugs and legal substances can harm a person’s well-being, so recreational therapy works to minimize use.

If use can be eliminated, therapy will shift towards maintaining sobriety. With time, recreational therapy interventions can shift again into the stage of sustaining recovery. Though sustained recovery may not require the same intensity of treatment needed in early recovery, it will be important for addiction services to continue so that complacency and boredom do not present.

The goals of recreation therapy are always the same: to improve a person’s level of functioning and happiness. In the case of addiction treatment, recreational therapy is a great way for clients to practice new coping skills that replace previous substance use.

Who Benefits Most from Recreational Therapy?

Like other types of therapy, it can be challenging to know who will respond favorably to recreational therapy. At times, a practitioner may think someone is an ideal candidate only to learn later that the person and the therapy were not a good fit.

Overall, many people will benefit from the evidence-based practice of recreation therapy. Whether it is recreational therapy in mental health or recreational therapy in physical health, people generally experience positive outcomes from the treatment.

According to the ATRA, the following groups are appropriate for rec therapy:

  • People with physical disabilities
  • Older people
  • People with psychiatric disorders
  • At-risk youth
  • People with developmental disabilities or brain injuries

Consider a person who is newly sober after a long history of using alcohol and other drugs. They will experience numerous changes, including:

  • Temporarily declined physical health as they work through withdrawal symptoms from substance use
  • Potentially increased mental health symptoms as brain chemistry rebalances following substance use
  • Altered social interactions and relationships as many of their former connections may trigger thoughts, feelings and cravings for use

Recreational therapy can help people address these challenges in a healthy and productive way.

Types of Recreational Therapy

When someone begins recreational therapy, they can expect a variety of therapeutic recreation activities for adults, teens or kids to get started following an initial assessment. These activities are the primary treatment strategies recreational therapists use to accomplish goals.

Different types of recreational therapy activities for substance abuse may include:

Arts and Crafts

Covering a huge array of creative activities, arts and crafts may involve making collages, writing stories or poetry or producing art.

Sports, Exercise and Yoga Programs

One way recreational therapy can create change in mental and physical health is by using sports and exercise programs to improve the person’s body and mind. Sports are excellent recreational therapy activities for substance abuse recovery because they help people rebuild healthy social interactions.

Dance and Music

Just like arts and crafts, dance and music represent another form of expression a person can use to improve their state. A person can make or listen to music to express themselves, feel catharsis and feel understood by others.

Group Outings

Gathering with people can add structure to one’s life and provide an opportunity to make new friends.

Animal-Assisted Activities

Interacting with animals, grooming them and caring for their needs can be therapeutic for many.

View Sources

American Therapeutic Recreation Association. “About Recreational Therapy.” Accessed July 21, 2019.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association. “History of ATRA.” Accessed July 21, 2019.

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. “About Recreational Therapy.” Accessed July 21, 2019.

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