Recreation Therapy and Mental Health

By Dana Groom, Recreational Therapist

Imagine a therapy that would treat your mind, body, and soul. One that would not only help you improve your cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being but also cater to your own leisure interests and goals. Recreation therapy can do all of these things as well as provide you with the education to continue your treatment and growth on your own.

Recreation therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is an evidenced based practice that uses recreation and other activity-based methods to address the needs of individuals with illness and/or disabilities. It uses a variety of modalities including but not limited to sports, music, art, humor, dance, Animal Assisted Therapy, sensory, adventure, gardening, and games.

Those who are certified in recreation therapy are called Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). They often have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation and have completed many hours of field work before earning their certification. They are accredited by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification and are trained to work with persons of all ages, demographics, and abilities.

Recreation therapists help people improve their mental health by planning and facilitating activities that help them set goals, teach coping skills, improve focus, process trauma, express emotions, channel creativity, and improve self-esteem. They teach ways to manage stress, develop leisure skills and social skills, provide education and leisure resources, and most importantly, they help others enjoy life. They help their clients process their experiences in treatment and life in order to improve their awareness of their emotions and progress towards goals.

Recreation therapists help their clients/patients explore new and old leisure interests to help them create a healthier active lifestyle. They work alongside of doctors, social workers, and other healthcare professionals to help treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis and other mental health issues.

How can you use recreation therapy to improve your mental health? Here are six simple steps.

  1. Identify emotions that you are struggling with. What emotions are giving you pain? Are you feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, or angry?
  2. Identify goals to become a happier and healthier version of yourself.  Your goals may include to improve your self-esteem, manage anger, or find ways to manage anxiety with fewer medications.
  3. Make a list of recreation activities you enjoy or would like to try in the future. Create a list that includes activities you have enjoyed in the past but since discontinued. Revisiting these activities may provide you with a sense of enjoyment and comfort that you have forgotten.
  4. Identify which of those activities would help you meet your goals. Any leisure activity will provide a variety of benefits. Focus on the activities that will most directly influence your growth. For example, if you are struggling to express your emotions verbally and are looking for a creative outlet you may want to explore areas of art, music or journaling.
  5. Find motivation or recruit help to engage in those activities.  It is often hard to take that first step. Contact a supportive family member or friend to help motivate you to engage in those activities.
  6. Take time to reflect on your experience.  Meditate, journal, discuss with friends or family. Do whatever you need to process your experience and how it has helped you to move forward in your journey. Identify boundaries or struggles that you came across and how you were able to overcome them.


 Dana Groom is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). She attended the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse and received her Bachelor of Science and Health degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Dana has worked at Southwest Health on the inpatient geriatric psych unit, SBS, for about nine years. At SBS Dana facilitates six recreation therapy groups per day as well as provides one to one activities and leisure counseling as needed. Dana has experience working with the geriatric population as well as children and adolescents.

Southwest Behavioral Services (SBS) is the mental health service line at Southwest Health. SBS has been part of Southwest Health since 1998 and has grown and developed around the community’s needs. SBS includes Inpatient Geriatric Psychiatry serving people 55 and older, Outpatient psychiatric care for people age six and up including medication management and psychotherapy for those 13 and older, and Memory Diagnostic Clinic.  If you have questions about SBS or want to schedule an appointment please call (608) 348-3656.



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