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Integrating the therapist and recreation specialist

This is an excerpt from Therapeutic Recreation Leadership and Programming by Robin Kunstler & Frances Stavola Daly.

The Components of the Blended Role

Therapeutic recreation leadership was defined in chapter 1 as the unique blending of the therapist's purposeful application of therapeutic strategies and facilitation techniques with the recreation specialist's abilities to create and facilitate leisure experiences in order to deliver TR services according to the highest ethical standards. Carrying out this blended role requires maturity, self-awareness, and continual reflection on ethical principles, as well as the TRS's

  • professional beliefs about the value and power of recreation participation in bringing about change and being meaningful to the individual and the group;
  • cross-cultural competence and interpersonal and motivational skills, and
  • ability to plan and organize creative programs within the professional environment.

The TRS, in fulfilling the blended role, draws upon the sensitivity, self-awareness, and interpersonal communication skills of a therapist or helper, as well as the program planning skills, motivational abilities, and creativity of a recreation specialist. In TR, the dynamic potential of leadership often has been unrealized. Practitioners may focus too much on achieving the clinical or functional outcomes, thereby sacrificing the recreation experience, or tend to emphasize the recreational nature of the experience rather than the purposefulness of the TR intervention, or conduct activities with little regard for either the valued benefits or outcomes.

In other words, the TRS may emphasize the product resulting from participation more than the process, which also can be described as focusing on the task the client is engaged in to the detriment of the experience the client has during the program. Conversely, at other times the TRS may be conducting an activity for its fun qualities without enough emphasis on achieving outcomes. Finally, the TRS may be conducting an activity without emphasizing its meaning or benefits, just to fill the time. The TRS's ethical responsibility is to actively engage with clients to facilitate their development of skills and competencies that will help them achieve greater quality of life and well-being. Understanding and applying the components of the blended role contribute to realizing the potential of TR.

Knowledge and Skills of the Therapist

Therapeutic recreation leadership incorporates the perspective of a therapist or helping professional. Therapists address clients' problems with the expectation of a change in their status or behavior. The therapist is often viewed as a "helper" whose goal is to assist clients in reaching their maximum potential in a way that is meaningful and self-fulfilling. Effective helpers are individuals who, through education and training, have developed a set of beliefs and behaviors that provide a depth and intensity to their interactions with others. Therapists act with purpose and are able to communicate the value of what they do to peers and clients. They believe that people are not only capable of change, but are also capable of helping themselves and using their strengths to make change occur. This reflects the humanistic perspective, a core TR principle.

Through the relationship with the TRS, clients can gain insight into their personal experiences and demonstrate new behaviors that are more satisfying and productive. The TRS uses himself as a catalyst or instrument of change in the client's life. This therapeutic use of self implies that the TRS is capable of forming a therapeutic relationship or alliance with clients that leads to the clients' attaining a better quality of life (Shank & Coyle, 2002). To be this instrument of change, the TRS has an obligation to explore his personal ideas about illness, disability, and other defining client characteristics. The TRS must be aware of his values and of how those values influence his daily practice. This is the foundation of what it means to be a therapist. While this is important for any professional working with people, in work with people who have illnesses, disabilities, or other conditions it becomes critical to be aware of any personal attitudes or beliefs that could affect the professional's interactions. Therapists are expected to uphold the highest ethical standards because of the sensitive nature of their work with clients. Integrity, honesty, competence, and respect are ethical principles with great relevance to the therapeutic relationship.

In order to develop an effective therapeutic relationship, the therapist needs specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. These include knowledge of assessment, facilitation techniques, and therapeutic strategies; cross-cultural competence; knowledge of environmental influences; understanding of the risks and benefits inherent in therapeutic relationships; and skill in therapeutic communication and motivational strategies. The personal interactions between therapist and client, based on the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the therapist, are significant factors in helping a client achieve goals. What distinguishes TR from other therapies is the blending of the therapist's foundational knowledge and skills with those of the recreation specialist in the provision of TR leadership.

Knowledge and Skills of the Recreation Specialist

Therapeutic recreation leadership incorporates the abilities of the recreation specialist to create and facilitate leisure experiences, and to motivate individuals to participate in activities and to experience the benefits of recreation participation. This reflects the core TR value of the right to leisure. Recreation specialists believe in the value of leisure experiences, the power of leisure to be a transforming influence on people's lives, and the significance of leisure in contributing to quality of life. These beliefs infuse the work of the recreation specialist as she emphasizes choice, perceived competence and control, intrinsic motivation, and the benefits derived from participation. Planning programs and leading groups are skills at which the recreation specialist should excel.

A competent recreation specialist is first and foremost a successful leader who knows a wide range of recreation activities, designs creative and stimulating programs, develops resources, applies risk management strategies to ensure a safe environment, is flexible, energetic and enthusiastic, understands group dynamics, communicates effectively, and successfully engages participants in satisfying recreation opportunities. The knowledge and skills used to plan and lead recreation experiences are at the core of the recreation specialist's contribution to TR leadership. It is important to examine how recreation leadership has been defined, in order to fully understand the concept of TR leadership.

Several authors have offered definitions of leadership. Leadership has been defined as “a process designed to produce changes in others' behaviors through the use of interpersonal influence” (Niepoth, 1983, p. 129). Another definition emphasizes communication as the key to successful leadership: "the interpersonal influence exercised by a person or persons through the process of communication" (Russell, 2005, p. 16) toward goal attainment in a given situation. A more comprehensive definition of leadership is a "process employed by the leader to assist individuals and groups in identifying and achieving their goals. Leadership may involve listening, persuading, suggesting, doing and otherwise exerting influence on others" (Edginton, Hudson, Dieser & Edginton, 2004, p. 68). To provide leadership, recreation specialists should be trustworthy, understand human nature, and have a positive attitude about what can be accomplished and experienced. Most definitions of recreation leadership, similar to these three, emphasize establishing a vision and influencing the behavior of others. These actions facilitate the clients' vision of what they wish to accomplish and motivate them to be actively engaged in the TR process. Fairness, competence, diligence, well-being and autonomy are the ethical principles with particular significance for the leader-participant relationship.

More Excerpts From Therapeutic Recreation Leadership and Programming



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