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Therapeutic recreation and healing, a path to personal growth

A group of canoes sliced through the water on a warm summer afternoon, laughter filling the air as Rosecrance staff and clients relaxed in nature’s beauty. With a sudden burst of energy, one client sped up to leaders and, with a wide grin, exclaimed, "I think I’ve found my passion!"

After several weeks of working through a variety of therapy modalities, the getaway connected with the client in a way that nothing else had. This activity showed the client how the skills they learned made a difference in everyday life and could give them positive interests to pursue long after leaving treatment.

Yoga is great way to learn mindfulness
Photo by Sarah Pflug/Burst


"The look of hope is a beautiful thing," said therapeutic recreation specialist Matt Larson. "It is awe-inspiring when clients find new ways to connect with themselves, and realize that if they can do this one challenge we give them, then there are so many other things they can do."

Therapeutic recreation is one important way residential clients find healing at Rosecrance. It is woven into the fabric of treatment program at all sites because it possesses a power to connect with clients in unique ways. Based in experience or action, what may seem like fun and games actually is a critical technique that teaches clients how to navigate life using what they learned on the basketball court, a canoe trip, in a greenhouse, and in other experiential learning settings. Data show that this improves stress, anxiety, emotional regulation, engagement with others, and knowledge of life skills.

Therapies are designed to give clients opportunities to grow in safe stress situations. By working through issues while completing a painting or doing a teambuilding exercise, clients discover that they can manage everyday life using what they learned in these settings.

"We create safe spaces where they can take risks and show vulnerabilities," said Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator Abby Nelson. "Therapeutic recreation can’t live in treatment. They have to take it home with them. It’s huge when they the can verbalize what they are going to do when they leave Rosecrance."

Rosecrance offers clients a multi-faceted range of activities such as art, horticulture, fitness, sports, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, labyrinth and sensory room, team building exercises, and more. Seasonal events add to the variety with events such as hiking, canoeing, the Heart Art show in February, and Haunted Woods in October.

"We know everyone has a different passion, and that is why we incorporate so many therapies into our treatment," said therapeutic recreation specialist Paul Fasano. "For some, that may be yoga, and others may be drawn to something like art or outdoors activities. Whatever it is, it’s always satisfying to see clients find their niche."

Staff help create a healing environment by participating in activities with clients to show what is possible. They are side-by-side lifting weights, meditating, and painting to model what is possible in life. It also gives therapeutic recreation staff opportunities to continuously grow through challenges such as training for half-marathons together.

"It’s important that we demonstrate skills ourselves, whether we’re at work or at home," said therapeutic recreation specialist Alyssa Newton. "That makes things that might seem intimidating at first a lot more accessible. We can point out our progress and highlight when we see clients taking big steps forward."

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