Recreational Therapy for Addiction

A common form of therapy for the treatment of drug or alcohol addiction and various mental health disorders, recreational therapy can improve client health and reduce symptoms of addiction in ways that other forms of treatment come short. Sometimes referred to as therapeutic recreation, this type of therapy involves the use of various recreational skills and activities to help clients address limitations associated with their addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Recreational therapy at SJRP guides clients through various activities to improve all aspects of their life for mental and physical healing.

Clients that participate in therapeutic recreation report improvements in:

  • Independence
  • Family Relationships
  • Communication with Others
  • Achievement of Goals in Recovery
  • Wellbeing and Overall Happiness
  • Coping Abilities
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health

To learn more about the recreational therapy programs offered at SJRP, call our admissions team at 833-397-3422.

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The Origins of Recreational Therapy

The concept of recreational therapy was introduced shortly after the impact of World War II had come to a close in the mid-1940s. The morale and psyche of fearless patriots were wounded and required repair that extended beyond physical therapy. Through trial and error inpatient treatment programs, it was noted that for hospitalized patients to experience a healthy recovery, it is essential to ensure that all needs of the veterans were met- emotionally, socially, and psychologically- and thus recreational therapy was born.

During this period recreational therapy became recognized in hospitals and through programs such as the Red Cross and Veterans Affairs. Fast forward 75 years later, recreational therapy has expanded into many branches of the medical field and has become a staple for inpatient and outpatient treatments across the nation.

Unfortunately, the thought of attending a recreational program whilst in recovery might seem unfamiliar and unnecessary to some. The idea of a meticulously planned daily routine could cause one to wonder how ‘another’ therapeutic program that interrupts the routine could be helpful for them. Rehabilitation and recovery programs are inherently designed to help patients dissolve their former dependence on addictive substances, but this is only part of the treatment.

The second half of treatment is dedicated to helping patients develop improved behaviors and the ability to experience both social interaction and leisure, both of which are imperative to health, without relapsing to former patterns of drug or alcohol use. By participating in recreational therapy clients in recovery are able to rediscover old hobbies and interests as well as possibly new ones that can aid in long-term recovery.

What is Recreational Therapy?


Recreational therapy for addiction involves the use of various forms of recreation such as activities like art, music or games to promote healing illnesses or disabilities. Using recreational skills and activities, therapists at SJRP focus on helping clients to become more aware of limitations to their recovery while providing tools to address such limitations and heal.

Recreation is just as essential to a comprehensive recovery as the initial intervention and detoxification stage. Both long and short-term clients  should be able to experience healthy social interactions and leisure time during the recovery process. For clients attending inpatient rehab, recreational therapy at SJRP involves art, music, and various forms of team building and process activities as well as plentiful outdoor recreation along the lake.

We offer several therapeutic recreation options for our residents to participate in based on individual needs & the treatment and recovery goals each client has. Recreational activities at SJRP can help to reduce levels of stress and overall to improve quality of life both during treatment and after. Recreational therapy at SJRP also focuses on teaching clients appropriate interventions to sustaining recovery and minimizing boredom.

Clients participate in:

  • Art Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Outdoor Excursions
  • Animal Assisted Therapy
  • Therapeutic Horseback Riding
  • Sports & Games

Clients take the time to develop interests and hobbies that will serve as an expressive outlet they will carry with them throughout the rehabilitation process and into life long recovery.

Recreation Therapy Treatment Plan

Like any other aspect of therapy, a blended approach is typically the best approach to incorporating recreational therapy into a client’s treatment plan. A recreational therapy treatment plan can be especially beneficial for clients who are struggling to acclimate to normal social settings after taking a leave of absence, or are dealing with self-isolation due to substance abuse, eating disorders, or other factors that have limited the amount of socialization and leisure time one might generally enjoy.

When choosing a rehab center that’s ideal for you or your loved one, consider the recreational therapy programs that are available and how those may apply to your unique interests.  While certain forms of therapy will likely be at doctors’ discretion, clients at SJRP will have the opportunity to discover new interests and make the most of their time in recovery while participating in a diverse mix of recreational activities and therapeutic recovery programs

We encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and engage in therapeutic recreation that you may not have previously been a part of, experience new things, and learn how to live a successful, sober lifestyle.

Recreational Therapy Interventions

A typical recreational therapy intervention process aims to define the appropriate recreational therapy programs for the client based on individual interests and needs in recovery. At SJRP, our BHT will work with you to determine the forms of recreation therapy that are provided at our center which are most appropriate or interesting to you.

A personalized treatment plan, including recreational therapy interventions, will be designed by your counselor in conjunction with your input and the input from others members of the SJRP treatment team.

Behind the scenes, a typical recreational therapy interventions assessment process is taking place. That process goes something like this:

  • Recreational Therapy Interventions Assessment – the RT specialist will review the individual patient’s case and determine what specific needs they might have, what interests and disinterests have been disclosed, and what the mental and physical capacity of the patient is.
  • Evaluation and Implementation of Services – After completing a comprehensive report on the client, a personalized plan for treatment will be disclosed. Most recreational plans are a hybrid between activities that are meant to engage cognitive functions such as board games, arts and crafts, and physical activities to enhance and strengthen performance such as yoga, swimming, or equine therapy.
  • Progress Report and Continuation – After a patient has begun their treatment, their activity will be recorded and documented to see what progress has been made and any areas of improvement that should be noted and adjusted. It is recommended for patients to continue RT,find similar activities, or join social groups that they can participate in after being discharged from treatment. This will aid in the transition process and ensure continued progress even after rehabilitation.

How Therapeutic Recreation Works in Addiction Treatment

Recovery treatment might be sought for several reasons: substance abuse, mental health disturbances, eating disorders, and various other situations may give rise to the need for this form of care. One element that remains consistent throughout all forms of diagnosis and treatment plans for recovery is the need for normalcy.

It is easy to understand and recognize that patients who are in recovery need to experience in some way a taste of everyday life, regardless of what background one came from before entry to rehab. Life is short and basic social interaction and the ability to remember that life is fun and is meant to be enjoyed is incredibly important.

Therapeutic recreation activities for adults provided in drug and alcohol rehab can range in scope. They generally serve the following purposes:.

Physical Engagement


Statistics have consistently shown that physical activity has many benefits for reducing the effects of depression, anxiety, and stress that are often felt by individuals who are in recovery. Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, and in turn, releases endorphins that promote happiness and a natural “high and improved mood”. Along with a plethora of physical benefits, exercise can work to improve memory for individuals of all ages. Engaging in physical activity doesn’t necessarily need to be overly strenuous or even cause one to break a sweat. Sometimes simplicity is best whether it means taking a leisurely walk along the lake or soaking up some sun outside while engaging in a sport.

Mind/ Body Connection


Discovering therapeutic recreation activities to engage the brain can prove to be beneficial in alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress levels. Finding new coping mechanisms to help process thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are likely to come and go throughout the rehabilitation process is essential. Outlets to channel emotions and self reflect such as creative writing, even practicing meditation and mindfulness and can make a huge difference not just for the short term but long term

Recreational Therapy Goals & Objectives

Participating in recreational activities, whether solo or in a group setting, is proven to be beneficial for individuals who are suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.

Recreational therapy goals and objectives vary by client. Common recreation therapy goals and objectives may include:

  • Reduction of adrenaline levels and stress.
  • Improved mood and subsequently reduced anxiety, depression and overall mental health.
  • Improved interpersonal skills.
  • Acclimation to a balanced social interaction.
  • Improvement of motor coordination skills.
  • Assist in overcoming social anxiety or other inhibiting social aspects of recovery.
  • Improved perception of personal body image.
  • Improved skill sets that can be used not just in recreational aspects but implemented in the workforce and community.

Who Benefits Most from Recreational Therapy?

Anyone has the potential to benefit from recreational therapy.


Clients who are in recovery from eating disorders, substance abuse, or co-occurring mental health disorders can benefit from experiencing a balance of social and cognitive stimulation that may have been missing in their routine prior to attending a recovery program. The benefits of recreational therapy for mental health generally revolve around stress reduction and improved mood. Evidence based practice recreation therapy can greatly improve recovery outcomes.

Recreational therapy in mental health treatment is just as essential as every other aspect of the recovery program., It is imperative for all patients to be prepared for re-entry into work/life balance after rehabilitation and recreational therapy provides this balance.

While everyone can reap the benefits of this treatment, there are certain clients that will find this treatment to be incredibly beneficial. Specifically, recreational therapy benefits those who might be:

  • Different, with unique abilities
  • Seniors or a more mature generation
  • Struggling with mental health disorders
  • Struggling with psychiatric disorders
  • Of a younger age such as pediatric patients
  • Struggling with impaired cognitive function or brain impairment, whether temporary or progressive in nature
  • At-risk population such as teenagers or young adults

Types of Recreational Therapy

There are various forms of therapeutic recreation activities for addicts, each uniquely designed to promote certain benefits. Recreational therapy activities for substance abuse may include:

  • Arts and Crafts: By participating in the arts and creative projects such as sculpture, painting, and creative writing the left side of the brain is engaged and releases dopamine – a hormone and neurotransmitter that works in conjunction with the brain’s reward system, memory and mood levels. This form of brain stimulation has been proven to be incredibly beneficial for individuals who have suffered from brain damage or would benefit from reduced stress. Arts and crafts work to stimulate and further engage the creative lobe of the brain.
  • Sports and Exercise Programs: Participating in group activities such as sports including tennis, soccer, or basketball can help to build communication skills, and team skills all while releasing endorphins and boosting serotonin levels.
  • Dance, Music, and Yoga: Concentration, clarity, and relaxation are just a few of the advantages of participating in these collective expressions of art and exercise. The benefits of yoga, music, and dance and correlation to a mental health focus on how these activities promote positive thinking, self-awareness, confidence, community, and stress relief.
  • Group Outings: Actively participating in group activities has many benefits.By making new connections, improving social interactions, and reducing feelings of loneliness that might occur whilst being away from family and friends during treatment this form of recreational therapy can be extremely beneficial to clients in recovery.
  • Animal Activities / Caring for Animals: Statistics have shown that simply petting an animal automatically causes the body and brain to relax, Humans interacting with animals have found that petting animals promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. the hormones that play a role in elevating client mood. Additional benefits to animal interactions include reduction of physical pain, reduced anxiety, and greater breakthroughs in other forms of treatment programs that coincide with animal therapy.

Recreational Therapy at SJRP

Top therapeutic recreation programs offered at St. John’s Recovery Place include various individual and group programs focused on helping clients heal. Clients appreciate their time in recreational therapy groups. Mental health is improved with therapeutic recreation and private recreation services can be individually tailored to meet client needs.

SJRP is proud to offer all of the following forms of recreational therapy to clients on a regular basis:

If you don’t see a particular type of recreational therapy listed here, give us a call at 833-397-3422 and ask about it! Chances are, we offer a program that includes the form of recreation that you’re most interested in and if we don’t, we’ll work diligently to tailor our program to better meet your needs.

Understanding Recreational Therapy & Your Recovery

For over 75 years recreational therapy has been implemented to assist individuals who are struggling with various obstacles in their lives including substance abuse and addiction. Here at St. John’s Recovery Place we understand the importance of comprehensive treatment programs, and we believe that therapy should focus on all aspects that impact the day to day routine. Therapeutic recreation programs at SJRP help clients to heal socially, physically, and psychologically.

By participating in recreational therapy each client in recovery has the ability to improve every aspect of their life. Call SJRP at 833-397-3422 to learn more about the recreational therapy programs we provide for recovery from addiction.

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