What Are Therapeutic Recreation Programs?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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Therapeutic recreation programs offer creative, social, and exercise opportunities for people with physical or mental disabilities. These programs adapt regular recreation activities to allow participation by people with limitations. Recreation activities might include swimming, cooking, crafts, and social clubs. Therapeutic recreation programs might help people with disabilities learn new skills to promote independence or simply have fun.

Many city and regional parks and recreation departments offer therapeutic recreation programs for residents. These activities typically provide a staff member for a small group of participants and may include instruction from a recreation therapist. Volunteers commonly help those who need extra assistance to participate.

Therapeutic recreation programs might be incorporated into a patient’s recovery plan in a hospital or rehabilitation facility. A therapist typically evaluates the patient’s medical records and level of disability to design programs meeting the patient’s interests and needs. These programs are also found in nursing homes, group homes, assisted-living centers, and schools.

Cooking class represents a common therapeutic recreation activity. People with disabilities learn to make healthy food choices and to prepare food safely. They might take a trip to the grocery store to purchase items needed to prepare a snack or entire meal. The outing teaches participants to navigate the public transportation system and to acquire money-handling skills. Clean-up after the class also prepares students for independent living.


Therapeutic recreation programs usually offer several types of exercise activities adapted for physical or mental disabilities. Water aerobics and swimming might maintain flexibility and strengthen muscles to improve movement. Some programs provide a companion in the water for people who cannot stand alone. Dance classes also provide exercise and social interaction.

Recreation programs aim to incorporate people with disabilities into activities enjoyed by healthy citizens. They might provide sign language interpreters, written materials in Braille, or a companion to accompany a person on a nature hike or tour of historic sites. Field trips might include a visit to the theater, bowling alley, or golf course.

Summer therapeutic recreation programs often appeal to special education students, and might be organized through schools. Some of these longer programs include several hours a day of educational and recreational activities. Certain programs focus on older students to bridge the gap between school life and getting a job. Summer programs might also be available for younger children with activities appealing to their interests.

Craft activities might include making jewelry, scrapbooking, or creating pottery. These activities help with small motor coordination and learning new skills. Students might feel a sense of accomplishment when they take something home they made.


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