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Recreational Therapy Month: Building on the strengths of youth, adults with special needs

“Recreational therapy is much more than playing a sport or demonstrating a skill. When done thoughtfully, recreational therapy engages all five senses, while providing a positive, therapeutic experience.”
  — Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical/Medical Officer
      Yolanda Graham, M.D.

According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA), recreational therapy utilizes activities – such as board games, fitness classes and movie nights – to help improve the physical, mental and emotional health and well-being of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions.

During Recreational Therapy Month, in February, Devereux wants to highlight the significant impact recreational activities can have on children, adolescents and adults living with emotional, behavioral and cognitive differences.

“Recreational therapy allows us to make meaningful connections with the individuals we serve, helping them identify and build on their strengths through participation in team-building exercises and activities that enhance their strengths,” said Graham. “Our ultimate goal is to help those in our care reduce stress, depression and anxiety, while increasing their social skills and self-confidence.”

Across the country, Devereux offers a variety of recreational activities and programs that may include:

  • Aquatic therapy
  • Board games
  • Culinary classes
  • Field games (e.g., softball, kickball)
  • Fishing
  • Fitness training
  • Gardening
  • Experiential (e.g., ropes course, climbing walls) 

“Through these types of activities, our youth – many of whom have experienced a significant amount of trauma in their young lives – are acquiring new skills, while having fun,” explained Devereux Arizona Director of Residential Services Diane Crerand. “For example, individuals who participate in our culinary arts program learn about nutrition, menu planning, cooking and presentation as they work to obtain their food handlers card. And as those same individuals play board games, they are learning how to follow directions, take turns and plan strategies.”

Helping individuals grow and thrive

At Devereux, providing fun and healthy recreational activities is a critical part of the successful treatment of the youth and adults it serves. Crerand said the physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits of these opportunities include:

  • Boosted self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Reduced stress, anxiety and depression
  • Improved physical fitness, strength and coordination
  • Increased socialization
  • Enhanced mental alertness and attention span
  • Boosted problem-solving skills
  • Increased independence
  • Strengthened resilience

“The benefits are truly endless,” noted Devereux Arizona Recreation Technician Reid Openshaw. “I have watched children who – at first – refuse to participate in a recreational activity start to smile, laugh and enjoy that very same activity a few days later. I have witnessed friendships form and grow. What I am most proud of is seeing our youth encouraging their peers by sharing their knowledge and celebrating their successes.”

Learn more about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.


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