Therapeutic Recreation has its roots in the military, believe it or not. You could say the first known accounts of such work was done by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War (1853-1856) where she became best known for her special work in caring for wounded soldiers. It wasn’t until the year 1981 that the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) was established as a non-profit, credentialing body for the therapeutic recreation profession. Today there are over 12,000 Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS) working in a variety of health and human setting. One of the many facilitation techniques in TR is yoga. Today, with more and more veterans returning from war with diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), amputations, traumatic brain injury and the like, yoga for veterans is increasingly becoming an important part of treatment and community reintegration. Studies are currently being done to understand the effectiveness in yoga as a tool for helping people with PTSD. I feel that these studies with veterans are a great springboard for future studies in yoga and TR and I look forward to being a part of this movement in the future.
I thought in celebration of TR Month, I would share my personal journey and where I am today. Hopefully you’ll learn something new, perhaps you’ll be inspired to follow your dreams to achieve your life’s passion. I’d love to hear what led you to the profession you are in, stories about your personal path to where you are today, or anything else you’d like to share, so please comment below!
I was drawn to the profession immediately when I learned about it, however I discovered it in a very round-about way. As a sophomore at Penn State I was unsure about the major I had in mind which at the time was Kinesiology, the scientific study of human movement. In fact, I was taking all of my core classes and hadn’t yet had one kinesiology course. I learned about Human Development and Family Studies and Health Policy and Administration and took quite a few classes before I realized something just wasn’t clicking for me. I wanted to be able to help others, especially older adult with one key stipulation: I wanted to do something fun that I loved and that the people I worked with would love. After expressing this to my advisor, I was sent to the Recreation and Park Management Dept. where Dave Rachau, my advisor said, how about Therapeutic Recreation? It was worth a shot and once I started classes I realized I had found my people! The students and teachers were all warm, caring and fun-loving. I fit in right away with my gregarious classmates and shined throughout the program. (Ironically, my original major of kinesiology would have been very appropriate given my current training as a Pranakriya Yoga Teacher, but hindsight is 20-20). Sadly, a couple of years ago Penn State had to drop their TR program due to low enrollment and budget constraints.
Once I entered into the “real world” through my internship and later through various jobs at nursing homes and assisted living settings I learned so much about TR and what it means to be a TR professional. It means being an advocate for the profession because sometimes what we do isn’t always taken seriously. You are seen as the person who gets to “hang out” with the residents and just “chat all day” or the infamous you get to play BINGO. Let me set the record straight, I have never been a BINGO advocate and there is a major difference between diversional activities and carefully planned and selected person-centered plans that a CTRS develops as a part of the treatment team. I don’t want to dismiss the socialization and other great health benefits of some diversional activities programs. They have their place in the world and serve great functions, but I want to note there is a definite clinical difference in what a CTRS can do.
I also became burned out! Being a caring professional is hard, demanding work. It is extremely rewarding and heart-warming at times, but other times it sucked the life out me. I had to find a balance between doing what I loved and taking care of myself. It was such an interesting parallel to what I saw happening within families coming to the nursing home to visit their loved ones. Even though their loved ones were in long-term care placement, the caregiving didn’t stop. I saw frustrated, burned out family members at their wits end trying to make sure their loved one was well cared for. Sometimes the pressure came from the patient who continued to make great demands of their spouse/partner/child. I heard of stories of caregivers that wound up in the hospital diagnosed with caregiver burnout or exhaustion. So I thought to myself, “How can I, as a CTRS and yoga practitioner, use my skills to help families through this process and stay as healthy and stress free as possible?” If CTRSs could be in nursing homes, skilled care centers, rehab facilities, correctional institutions and schools, why not in the community?
That is when space & time was born. So much of this burnout and stress could be alleviated and prevented if we learned to take better care of ourselves. If we could become empowered and self-motivated to make decisions that would serve us, we in turn would be doing a service to the ones we care for. I focus my efforts in helping caregivers (family caregivers and caring professionals) to nurture themselves. The therapeutic recreation techniques I use are varied and change with each unique client’s situation. Some things I do include progressive relaxation, yoga, meditation, journaling, and values clarification. The other special feature that is combined into the program is time management and organizational skills training. With these powerful tools at their fingertips, caregivers can learn to ride out the waves of their caregiving journeys rather than being swallowed up by rough seas.
These techniques have been effective in reducing my stress, grounding me and helping me move through life with more ease and grace. From my personal experience I offer compassionate and caring services to my clients to empower them to enjoy every moment of life that comes to them. I use the term “enjoy” because to me being alive is a joy. Even if the moment brings anger, confusion, doubt, or suffering to be able to experience it with complete aliveness is a great gift. This is what I strive for in my life and my intention for my clients.