When you think of holistic, you might think of practices like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling. However, the word holistic means whole, or taking into consideration the many aspects of the whole. For instance, someone who is aiming for holistic recovery will not only attend 12 meetings to stay sober, but they might also include nutrition, financial counseling, tai chi, herbal medicine, and massage therapy. The point is that holistic recovery addresses all parts of a person’s life, such as the physical, emotional, psychological, social, economic, and even spiritual needs of a person.
Part of addressing the many aspects of a person is exploring how to have fun and experience adventure. It’s important for adults to have fun too because it can help with having positive emotions, overcoming negative thoughts and feelings, and experiencing joy. Addiction usually strips a person from enjoying life. For that reason, one of the many therapies that are used in addiction is one called recreational therapy.
According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA), recreational therapy is defined as:
Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.
Imagine going to a drug rehab facility or a being a part of a sober living community where you have the opportunity to practice wilderness survival, zipline above tall trees, or hike to waterfalls. The point of recreational therapy is to help build a person’s sense of empowerment and inner strength. Recreational therapy can help a person have new experiences of confidence, courage, and cognitive strength. In fact, research shows that recreational therapy can improve one’s self image, reduce compulsive behaviors, increase trust with oneself and others, as well as improve one’s ability to be social.
Over the years, recreational therapy has also been referred to as wilderness therapy and outdoor experiential therapy. However, there are slight differences between these three terms. Professionals in this field refer to recreational therapy when it includes outdoor activities that involve physical or emotional challenges. Wilderness therapy, however, places participants in primitive settings and invites them to adapt and cope using few tools. More recently, recreational therapy has evolved to include traditional methods of therapy in addition to adventure-like activities.
Recreational therapy primarily uses individual experience and group activities to build trust, improve problem solving skills, and enhance self confidence. Combined with traditional therapy, professionals have found that the combination of the two help with reaching goals such as sobriety, emotional stability, learning new coping skills, and improving behavior. One reason why recreational therapy has been used in recovery from addiction is because experts have noticed that this type of treatment matches the type of client in more effective ways. For instance, commonly recovering addicts need more structure as well as activities that are informal and kinesthetically oriented.
Keep in mind that recreational therapy alone is not entirely adequate for addressing addiction. Talk to a mental health provider for more information on the various types of therapies available in recovery.