Holistic Health Through Recreational Therapy

Holistic Health Through Recreational Therapy: The Often Overlooked Treatment

“Holistic” has been a buzzword in the healthcare profession for quite some time. This involves treating the whole person as opposed to a diagnosis or set of symptoms. When some people hear the word, they may think of shaggy gurus teaching New Age techniques from different cultures. Treating the whole person doesn’t have to be a “New Age” concept. In fact, holistic medicine may be a re-framing of the attitudes and habits that make up a person’s free time.

Consider this: the choices we make in our free time directly affect our overall health and well-being. In those few precious hours each day we consider our leisure time, we have the opportunity to make choices to recharge our mind, body, and souls.

Ever had a really bad day at work? What did you do? Maybe you grabbed the most unhealthy snack you could find and binge watched your favorite television show. Perhaps you put on your favorite sneakers and went for a cathartic jog. Or maybe you called a couple friends and had a “therapeutic” session at your favorite restaurant.

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As you could see, the choices you made probably helped you feel better. Of course, some choices lead to better health and overall well-being. Using leisure time wisely is the cornerstone of the Recreational Therapy practice.


Recreational Therapists have helped several people with a variety of issues engage in positive activities and discover how their leisure time is an opportunity for healing and transformation. Recreation Therapy is practiced in a variety of settings including nursing homes, residential facilities, at-risk youth programs, sports medicine programs, and various rehabilitation settings. The goal is to purposefully use recreation activities as a means to addressing specific deficits and difficulties a person may be experiencing.

A Recreational Therapist assesses an individual to determine their strengths, needs, and leisure interests. From there, the Recreational Therapist develops a plan to use engaging recreation experiences to address these need areas. How do they do this? It partially involves getting the individual into a “ flow” state “. This is where an activity is so engaging that an individual loses track of time and self.

Think about your favorite hobbies or leisure activities. Do you ever get so engrossed in the activity that you look up from the clock and can’t believe an hour just passed? This is the “flow” state. Studies have shown those continually reaching this state have a greater sense of purpose, well-being, and life satisfaction.

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In addition to helping a person reach their individual “flow” state, a Recreational Therapist uses activities to improve the overall functioning in several areas of a person’s life.

Holistic Treatment Effects:


Exercise is well known to help people with a variety of health conditions including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and chronic pain. Instead of using a dull exercise routine to treat a person, a Recreational Therapist finds engaging physical activities to get a person moving and active.


A person with emotional difficulties often gets stuck in a constant loop of his or her negative emotions.This can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. By engaging in therapeutic activities, has an opportunity to reset this “loop” and gain better perspectives.

In addition, creative activities led by a Recreational Therapist help with self-expression and working through difficult emotions.


A person with cognitive difficulties may find some learning activities dull. Let’s say a child with a learning disability is trying to learn colors. Instead of using flashcards, a Recreational Therapist may use a game like Go Fish or Candyland to help with color recognition. Mental activities run by a Recreational Therapist can also help with practical life skills like decision-making, problem solving, and understanding new concepts.

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Spirituality has a different meaning for each individual. In a nutshell, this means finding a purpose greater than the everyday mundane existence. While some turn to religion, others find meditation, yoga, and other mind-body practices spiritually uplifting. Some people find serving others through volunteering or other selfless acts a spiritual experience. Recreational Therapists can help individuals find their “higher purpose” by participating in meaningful activities.


Many people with disabilities often feel isolated due to their condition. By engaging in a Recreation Therapy program they reconnect with others and find common bonds. This could include social events, therapeutic groups, or trips into the community. In addition, a Recreation Therapist can use activities to address a person’s social skills such as assertive communication, manners, and relating to others.

Healing Through Recreation

As you could see, well-prescribed leisure activities can play a major role in a person’s holistic health. Everyday, Recreational Therapists use meaningful activities to help heal and improve the quality of life for individuals with a variety of disabilities.

Recreational Therapist Kevin Gruzewski

This article was written by Kevin Gruzewski,
founder of The Real Recreation Therapist .