From time to time, I'll feature a guest expert talking about a recovery topic. Rachel Koch, a certified recreational therapist, inaugurates. She has a Masters in Therapeutic Recreation from New York University.
CB: How is recreation therapeutic?
RK: With therapeutic recreation or recreational therapy you work with individuals who bave some sort of disability-whether it's developmental, aging, mental or drug abuse. You focus on the five domains with rec therapy: physical, cognitive, mental, emotional and spiritual. If you have a problem in one of those domains, you use any form of recreation-if you have a fine motor skills disability, you use recreational activity where you enhance your fine motor skills. If you have a social or emotional disability, if you feel you can't be in groups of others, through using recreation it eases you into a more social situation.
CB: What does a recreational therapist do?
RK: The rec therapist focuses on the disability and uses recreation to help whatever the problem may be. So in a lot of places the rec therapist sets goals-she has a specific goal and a group that she uses. At Brooklyn Developmental Center where I work with people with developmental disabilities, I do a little of everything: educational games, hand-eye coordination, gross and fine motor, social interaction. We use any form of recreation-a sporting game, exercise, a bingo game, an arts-and-crafts activity, music dance, yoga or I even do breathing exercises with my guys-all to enhance the skill that may be challenged for the person.
CB: What is recreation exactly?
RK: Recreation is using your time where you're doing something you enjoy doing. It could be a walk through the park, going to a play with friends, watching baseball, even watching soap operas or sitting and relaxing to music. Something you enjoy and need. We all need to have time for ourselves and time around others and to enjoy doing things.
CB: Why is it so important to our mental health?
RK: A lot of times people with mental illnesses seclude themselves, maybe there's an anxiety issue so doing recreation-on your own or with somebody else or a group of people or with a rec therapist-you slowly come out of that shell. When you enjoy doing something on your own or enjoy doing it with someone else it gives you the confidence you need to be able to help yourself in recovery. When you're social, even if you're all by yourself, if you go to the park, sit on a bench on your own, there are people around you. If you stay inside your home and keep inward and don't reach out and go out, the anxiety builds. When you recreate you build the confidence by being around other people, talking with people, and socializing with people. You can start out small-taking yourself out to eat-it gives you the security that you can associate with other people.
CB: What are some types of activities that could benefit a person in recovery?
RK: Like I said you could start out on your own-take a book or magazine to a park, go outside on a nice day. Being out in a pleasant environment is a big deal, makes you feel good about yourself that you're out of the house. You could go to a museum, take a walk, go to a class, do things on your own. In recovery, something that's always good is if you start going to day programs and peer-run support groups where you meet people and talk to people. You never know who you're going to meet. Another thing is, you could volunteer. Once you feel comfortable doing things on your own you'll be more comfortable going out and meeting other people. So depending on the setting that you're in-if it's a support group, you meet people with similar situations. If you volunteer with something you're interested in, you'll know other people have the same interest and so you meet people that way. Once you meet people-don't be shy, exchange phone numbers, go for coffee, go to ball games, do whatever you want to do-go to each other's houses, make dinners for each other.
CB: Could you suggest some inexpensive kinds of recreation?
RK: Well, if you have a computer, you can Google "free events and [insert name of your city]." Or "cheap events." The museums a lot of times will take donations. They suggest an admission fee yet will take donations and so you could give five dollars, even a dollar. That's what I do. [Laughs.] One thing I always like is to take people when they come in town to the Staten Island Ferry, it's free, goes right by the Statue of Liberty. Bring a picnic lunch to the park. Now in the summer there are free concerts all over in a lot of cities. Here [in Brooklyn] there's Coney Island and Prospect Park. Even the library-you can pick up as many books as you can carry and try them out and choose the one you want to read for the next couple of weeks. The library is a good one-they have videos there, too. Very good, very good.
CB: So you'd say in towns and cities across America there are always options?
RK: Oh, yes. Now everyone has a computer so use it to find out what's going on. TimeOut NewYork [a magazine here, also has other city editions] also has listings for clubs or speakers or events. Chicago has The Reader for alternative types. You definitely have options.
CB: By the way, do you feel people can benefit from doing absolutely nothing at all because life is so fast-paced?
RK: That too. I work five days a week so sometimes my recreation is literally coming home, putting on the music and sitting and doing nothing for the night. I'm busy and stimulated all day so I need to relax and chill out. That is important. I don't think any recreational therapist would say, "You need to be active all the time doing recreation," that's not realistic, and that's not healthy. We all need down time, especially if you have a stressful job-even with a job that is not stressful. You need to be able to have time to sit and relax, to relax your mind and relax your brain.
CB: What are your favorite activities away from work?
RK: Let's see, I like to hang out with friends-go over there or come here, I like to read, to take pictures-I'm into photography these days, I like going to the movies. I had a lovely day boating in the park today-I went to Central Park, and it was cheap: twelve dollars for an hour. I told someone I liked doing that because I like doing things near the water-swimming, boating, inner tubing. I felt it was very cool.
CB: You've given us some excellent suggestions. Now if you'll excuse me a good book awaits-I'm reading Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer.
Published On: August 14, 2008