Recreational Therapy

Clinical Services

As defined by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA), "Recreational Therapy is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the needs of individuals with illness and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being."

"Treatment services are designed to restore, remediate, and rehabilitate a person's level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or illuminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participate in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition." (ATRA, 2015)

Recreational Therapists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) strive to improve the functioning and quality of life of the patients participating in biomedical research. Recreational Therapy services are initiated with a physician's order. Once the referral is received, the patient is assessed and a treatment plan, with patient input, is implemented. Recreational Therapists work collaboratively with the medical team and other research and clinical disciplines to provide patient centered clinical care to the research participants at NIH.

The Recreational Therapy Section is housed within the Rehabilitation Medicine Department, in the Hatfield Clinical Research Center. Recreational Therapists provide services to all pediatric and adult medical inpatient units as well as behavioral health units and several outpatient clinics. The Recreational Therapy Section also provides family centered care by offering a variety of general recreation activities and drop in programs. Program information is available on the patient portal, all patient care units and reception areas.

Art Therapy

As defined by the American Art Therapy Association, "Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem."

At the NIH Clinical Center, adult and pediatric patients may be referred to work with an art therapist for individual or group art therapy sessions. During art therapy, various forms of art making may be utilized to allow individuals to express, explore and process thoughts, feelings and emotions. Art therapy can provide a non-verbal and non-threatening opportunity to express and explore a range of emotions with the support and facilitation of a trained and credentialed art therapist.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is the scientific manipulation of the soft tissues of the body for the purpose of normalizing those tissues and consists of manual techniques that include applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, and/or causing movement of or to the body. Generally, massage is known to affect the circulation and the flow of blood and lymph, reduce muscular tension or flaccidity, affect the nervous system through stimulation or sedation, and enhance tissue healing.

At the NIH Clinical Center, a patient may be referred to receive massage therapy based on a "medical massage" model whereby a licensed, medical professional defines a treatment plan for a diagnosis that may include, but not be limited to, intended purpose and outcome. As such, massage therapy is a specific intervention performed by a licensed massage therapist following assessment/evaluation for a specific, identified issue or need related to the patient's medical protocol.

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This page last updated on 06/28/2022

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