Recreational Therapy For Children And Adolescents

  • Agnes ChanBSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Manchester

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Have you ever heard about recreational therapy? Do you know that play can have a therapeutic effect when administered appropriately? This article will provide you with information on recreational therapy and how it benefits children and adolescents.

Recreational therapy uses materials like play, art, and music to help individuals express their feelings and experiences that they find difficult to talk about. With the use of recreational therapy, various aspects of life, such as physical, emotional and social, can be improved.

Interested in learning more about recreational therapy? You have come to the right place. Scroll down and read on!

What is recreational therapy?

Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is one of the therapies to deal with illness and conditions improving physical health and facilitating recovery for better well-being. It uses recreation and activity-based interventions to achieve its goals. People with illness and/or disability conditions can benefit from recreational therapy. These activities are given and supervised by a certified recreational therapist. They aim to improve and maintain various aspects of functioning, such as physical, cognitive, social and emotional. Recreational therapy can help individuals live their lives to their full potential physically, socially and spiritually. Recreational therapists would provide activities that are most appropriate to different individuals in accordance with their personal goals and which aspect(s) of their lives they want to improve. These goals include but are not limited to lessening depressive symptoms, reducing anxiety and stress, and building confidence. 

Benefits of recreational therapy

Recreational therapy has a lot of benefits that improve various aspects of life and hence improve the quality of life of children and adolescents receiving recreational therapy. Therefore, recreational therapy can be very helpful and important for their growth and coping with difficulties and challenges they are facing in their lives. Below are the benefits brought by recreational functioning: 

  • Improve physical functioning
  • Improve cognitive functioning, eg, improving reasoning skills
  • Improve behaviour functioning
  • Develop and improve social skills
  • Improve emotional functioning, including reducing depression and anxiety
  • Sense of empowerment
  • Strengthen self-confidence
  • Self-worth
  • Self-identity
  • Changes in attitudes about the illness or condition
  • Develop independence

Types of recreational therapy

Art therapy

Art therapy is one of the psychotherapies given by trained therapists. In an art therapy session, art is the major mode of expression while talking to an art therapist. The main responsibilities of art therapists are assisting and guiding individuals to express and articulate through creating art pieces. Individuals’ complex thoughts and feelings are often explored. These may be related to previous difficult experiences or traumas that are not usually revisited and talked about. Art therapy aims at improving emotional well-being, and reducing stress and discomfort brought by traumatic memories. Art therapy can also improve the social aspect by promoting self-worth, self-compassion and confidence. Art therapy is suitable for people of all ages and no previous experience in art is needed. In the UK, all art therapists have to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in order to be in practice. 

Music therapy

Music therapy is another form of psychotherapy given by HCPC-registered music therapists. Like any other type of recreational therapy, music therapy aims to improve and support individuals’ psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social aspects of life depending on their conditions and preferences. It is suitable for people of all ages and all stages of life. You do not need previous experiences in music to benefit from music therapy. Activities used in music therapy are very diverse, ranging from engaging in live musical interaction and play between the therapist and the client to just listening to music. A variety of music instruments and musical styles can be used in music therapy as a medium for communication forming a bridge between the therapist and the client. Through music improvisation, individuals can create music in the way they like it to be and express their feelings through music. Music therapy is particularly useful for people with verbal communication difficulties as they do not need to speak in the process of creating music. The benefits of music therapy include facilitating communication skills, boosting self-confidence and independence, and improving self-awareness and awareness of others. In terms of cognitive functioning, music therapy can also help improve concentration and attention. Music therapy is helpful for children with autism by facilitating the development of emotional, social and communication skills. Currently, music therapists are working with children and young people, people with autistic spectrum conditions, children, adolescents and adults struggling with mental health problems, adults with learning disabilities and older people concerned with isolation and loneliness. 

Play therapy

Play therapy utilises play and art materials to help people with their feelings and experiences expression. It is useful for people with difficulties making sense of and describing their feelings. It is particularly helpful for children who need therapeutic support as play is the major form of communication for children. Through play, children can express how they are feeling without having to verbally express themselves. There is a wide range of activities in play therapy including:

  • drawing and painting
  • water and clay
  • sand tray and miniatures
  • guided imagery and relaxation techniques
  • drama and puppetry
  • poetry
  • movement and music. 

Through these activities, children will have an opportunity to explore their creative world and use play and art materials as a medium to show their inner world to the therapists. As children may not have the words for what they are feeling and explain their behaviours, they do not know how to convey their problems and struggles to the adults around them. With the use of play therapy, play therapists can help children develop healthy and resilient relationships so as to process traumatic experiences with them. Addressing their problems through play not only provides a channel for children to look at their problems but also allows play therapists to understand the issue and therefore provide appropriate support to the children. In this way, children will get to know themselves better forming a sense of who they are. The benefits of play therapy include building confidence in the expression of feelings and experiences, developing emotional vocabulary from the chatting between the therapist and the child, behaving in a more socially appropriate way, and improving self-image and self-esteem. Play therapy also has cognitive functioning benefits like improving attention and organisation. 

The role of recreational therapists

Recreational therapists, also known as therapeutic recreation specialists, aim at maintaining and improving physical and mental health. They use creative healing methods to help people with illnesses or disability conditions get more active in life again. They can give either 1-to-1 or group sessions that utilise play, recreation, experimental activity and psychoeducation to meet the aims. Usually, recreational therapists have a role in helping individuals develop knowledge, skills, and behaviours to improve their functioning in various aspects. Sometimes, if a specific set of leisure skills is conducive to promoting overall well-being and life satisfaction, related materials will be provided by the recreational therapist to achieve this goal. Recreational therapists often work alongside doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, and occupational therapists in order to maximise the benefits given by recreational therapy. 

Incorporating recreational therapy in various settings


Physical education programmes 

Integrate therapeutic recreational activities into physical education classes to promote overall health and well-being.

After-school programmes 

Establish recreational therapy programmes as part of after-school activities, providing a structured and supportive environment for children to engage in therapeutic play.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities

Paediatric units

Offer recreational therapy for children undergoing medical treatment to alleviate stress, promote emotional well-being, and aid in the recovery process.

Rehabilitation centres

Incorporate recreational activities into rehabilitation programmes to enhance physical and cognitive rehabilitation for children and adolescents with disabilities or injuries.

Community centres

Summer camps

Organise therapeutic summer camps that focus on recreational activities, fostering social interaction, and providing a positive environment for personal growth.

Community events

Host community events that include recreational therapy components, encouraging community engagement and promoting the well-being of children and adolescents.

Residential treatment centres

Structured programmes

Integrate recreational therapy into the daily routine of residential treatment centres to provide a therapeutic outlet for residents and contribute to their overall treatment plan.

Team-building activities

Utilise outdoor and group activities to enhance teamwork, communication, and conflict-resolution skills among residents.

Mental health facilities

Therapeutic group

Incorporate recreational therapy into group therapy sessions to address various mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or behavioural disorders.

Art and music therapy programmes

Offer creative recreational activities like art and music therapy as part of mental health treatment plans.

Community-based programmes

Inclusion initiatives

Develop inclusive recreational programmes that cater to children and adolescents of all abilities, promoting social integration and reducing stigma.

Local parks and recreation departments

Collaborate with local parks and recreation departments to create recreational therapy programmes accessible to the wider community.

School counselling centres

Expressive therapies

Incorporate recreational therapy techniques, such as art or play therapy, into counselling sessions to provide alternative ways for children and adolescents to express themselves.

Conflict resolution workshops

Use recreational activities to teach conflict resolution skills and emotional regulation within a therapeutic context.

Outpatient Clinics

Individualised treatment plans

Tailor recreational therapy interventions to complement individual treatment plans, addressing specific therapeutic goals for children and adolescents.

Family involvement

Include family members in certain recreational therapy activities to strengthen family bonds and support the overall well-being of the child.


In conclusion, recreational therapy is beneficial for people of all ages and at all stages of life. Recreational therapy can be particularly beneficial for children and adolescents because it helps them express their feelings and experiences without having to explicitly say them out loud. Children and adolescents may not yet have the knowledge and ability to understand and describe their feelings and experiences. Therefore, utilising play, art, and music in recreational therapy provides a great medium for them to express themselves and also allows them to learn about how to deal with the struggles and challenges they encounter.


  1. About recreational therapy | nctrc [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Available from: 
  2. Yang J, Shafran R, Bennett SD, Jolly A, Morant N. The impact of therapeutic recreation camps in the United Kingdom on the wellbeing of youth with serious illness and disability: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Pediatric Nursing [Internet]. 2022 Nov 1 [cited 2024 Feb 23];67:e31–7. Available from: 
  3. Science MCC of M and. Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Recreational therapist - explore health care careers - mayo clinic college of medicine & science. Available from: 
  4. The British Association Of Art Therapists [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 23]. What is art therapy? Available from: 
  5. BAMT - British Association of Music Therapy [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Bamt - british association of music therapy. Available from: 
  6. What is play therapy? [Internet]. Play Therapy UK. [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Available from: 
  7. What is play therapy? - the british association of play therapists [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Available from: 
  8. What is a recreational therapist? | college of health | university of utah health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 23]. Available from: 

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ka Yin Chan

BSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Manchester

She is a Neuroscience student with strong interest in clinical research and medical communications. She believes that the ever-growing field of scientific research is crucial for understanding health and hence improve it.

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