A Closer Look at Recreational Therapy

What is Recreational Therapy?

Most people are familiar with physical therapy or occupational therapy, where individuals typically focus on strengthening or practicing tasks, generally for recovery or to restore function. Lesser known, are the benefits and impact of recreational therapy, which has a wider scope. This type of therapy utilizes activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to support psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.

To put it more simply, recreational therapy (or rec therapy for short) works to use modified and prescribed leisure activities, in order to improve motor skills, social skills and cognitive functioning, while also benefitting emotional, spiritual, social and vocational well-being. Studies show that recreational therapy can help individuals combat depression and physical ailments, build coping skills, boost self-esteem and improve mood and quality of life.

Some common recreational therapy activities include individual or group counseling through strategic play, such as creative writing, yoga, crafts, dancing, drama, games or sports. These activities can take place within various settings, such as medical institutions, correctional facilities, community centers, and assisted living facilities. Each recreational therapy plan is highly individualized to each person based on their goals, and one-size certainly does not fit all.

A Therapy Misunderstood

The most common misgiving about recreational therapy is that it is simply an extension of recreation, or hobbies, or a form of “play”. In reality, there is evidence that this form of therapy significantly improves lives. There are many published studies that have demonstrated the benefits of recreational therapy for people of varied backgrounds, ages and conditions. For example, one recent study showed the results of a 12-week basketball training program where group play and exercise offered a promising outlet for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, while another showed how music therapy reduced pain and increased comfort from patients recovering from spine surgery.

The combined efforts of enhancing overall physical, cognitive, emotional, social and professional health are aimed to help individuals achieve their personal goals, whether that’s participating more fully and independently in chosen life pursuits or building interpersonal skills and behaviors, despite their ailments or disabilities.

Who could benefit from Recreational Therapy?

Recreational therapy benefits people of all ages and backgrounds, from pediatric to geriatric, injured to ill, and those who struggle with addiction, depression or other psychological ailments. Below are just a few examples of who can benefit from recreational therapy:

Patients experiencing:

  • stroke
  • injury
  • illness
  • surgery
  • cancer

Supporting Emotional and Psychological Wellness:

  • Child and adolescent development
  • Military service or veterans coping with PTSD
  • Those dealing with depression, anxiety, or isolation

Considering if Recreational Therapy is Right For You

Recreational therapy is a quickly growing sector in the medical field that can help individuals improve quality of life, physical health and rehabilitation. According to the US Department of Labor, “The rapidly growing number of older adults is expected to spur job growth for recreational therapy professionals and paraprofessionals in assisted-living facilities, adult daycare programs, and other social assistance agencies. Continued growth also is expected in community residential care facilities, as was daycare programs for individuals with disabilities.”

There is a wide-application and potential for benefit from recreational therapy, and because of this we often include this type of therapy in our life care plans. With the correct treatment and a certified recreational therapist, patients can bring about purposeful change, transforming their lives to achieve their best quality of life through their avocational pursuits.


  1. https://www.atra-online.com/page/AboutRecTherapy
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32365853/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331422/
  4. https://health.utah.edu/occupational-recreational-therapies/degrees/recreational-therapy
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32365853/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28235116/
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/recreational-therapy#conditions