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5 Benefits of Recreational Therapy for Depression

Apr 25, 2022

“Recreational therapy” may sound like a collection of fun activities, but it’s much more than that. When used to treat depression, it’s a valuable way to learn how to better manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Activities are chosen with a purpose in mind and influenced by your personal interests.

Why is therapeutic recreation important?

Recreational therapy relies on recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the needs of a person with depression or other mood disorders. In addition to an improvement in psychological well-being, recreational therapy can lead to many other positive outcomes including improved physical health, improved cognitive health, and improved social health. Participating in recreational therapy also helps a person become more informed about their own health care needs and better advocate for themselves with treatment providers.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-841-1033.

Top Benefits of Recreational Therapy for Depression

The impact of recreational therapy is significant. A full list of benefits would be far-reaching.

For this reason, we can narrow the focus to look at five in particular. The ones that appear on this list should be seen as merely a starting point of the positive outcomes you can experience.

These benefits can appear in a variety of ways. Some results may be an improvement for you physically. Others will help you psychologically or mentally. Depression affects the mind and the body, so treating it with recreational therapy is an opportunity to lessen or better manage the symptoms.

Today, let’s look at five benefits from participating in recreational therapy for depression:

1. You can improve your physical health.

Recreational therapy introduces numerous forms of physical activity. For someone who’s been sedentary with depression, this can be a big change. The introduction to different forms of recreation is intended to help you see what works and guide you to something you’re interested in and can sustain on your own. The list might include walking, running, working out at a gym or community rec center.

Recreational therapy provides support in designing a lifestyle with physical health as a core element. It might require getting help locating new resources or support in applying for financial assistance for these resources. Recommendations can be made based on your interests.

The physical outcomes of participating in recreational therapy are noteworthy. You may notice you’re getting restful sleep at night and maintaining higher levels of energy during the day. You may experience improvements in strength and mobility. Your blood pressure might be lowered by daily or regular physical activity. You may feel less tense. Your immune system may become enhanced.

Like any type of therapy, you can identify specific physical health goals along the way. This can help your recreational therapist support you in determining how to best use your therapy time to reach those goals. These may be short-term or long-term goals. It’s important to consider what activities you enjoy and the potential they have to help you heal.

2. You can improve your emotional health.

Recreational therapy for depression also teaches people how to improve emotional self-care. This covers the way you respond to your emotions and your ability to regulate them. An emotional response to depression is expected so the goal of recreational therapy is to help you learn to live with it while making healthy choices.

During a recreational activity, your emotional responses will be important to observe and evaluate. Some people might get frustrated in a new activity or game where they’re struggling or lack a necessary skill. Their response might be to get upset, shout, or quit. Recreational therapy allows you to process what you’re feeling during the activity. By talking about it, you can learn to better understand your “automatic” responses to frustration (or any emotion). Then, you can learn productive ways to handle your feelings so you remain in control of them.

Emotional health can be strengthened by participating in activities that give you a sense of achievement and success. That success might be learning how to do something on your own and gaining a sense of independence. In recreational therapy, you might discover what activities motivate you to create using existing skills or by learning new skills.

As mentioned above, emotional health outcomes can include better emotion regulation and a sense of independence. These results can be accompanied by developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life, gaining a sense of control over your choices, and feeling more optimistic in general.

3. You can improve your cognitive health.

Cognitive functioning relates to mental abilities. The list includes attention, decision-making, learning, problem-solving, remembering, reasoning, and thinking. You may have noticed one or more of these areas has been impacted by your depression, occasionally or routinely.

In recreational therapy, the focus on cognitive health comes from engaging in activities that require the use of those mental abilities. Creative writing may direct you to remember past experiences and share them in a short story. Building a model car may require problem-solving skills to determine how to assemble the parts in the correct order. A trivia activity requires multiple mental activities as you must pay attention, think, and remember facts or details.

Interactive video games provide another way to improve cognitive health during recreational therapy for depression. Using a gaming system and a preferred type of game puts you in a situation where decision-making and problem-solving skills get tested. If it’s an unfamiliar game, you may even need to take time to learn the rules, the risks, and the rewards offered in the game.

As your cognitive health improves, you may notice several signs of it. You may feel you’re more able to attend your recreational therapy sessions. You may notice your memory has improved and you’re able to concentrate better. Your ability to set and stick with goals might be better, too. Following directions might come easier for you. Even your problem-solving skills can be sharpened.

4. You can improve your social health. 

Depression may make a person feel cut off from society. They may isolate themselves, neglecting their relationships with friends, family, and neighbors. With an abundance of alone time, the depression can intensify with symptoms appearing to be more severe. Restoring social health through recreational therapy for depression comes from the guidance and support in reconnecting with people who matter. Opportunities to create new relationships are also strongly encouraged. You may decide to volunteer at a charity that has meaning to you personally as a way to connect with like-minded people. Giving to others while building new friendships is one way to create a new sense of community in your life.

Recreational therapy sessions provide a setting for processing feelings tied to your self-identity. People who believe they were “never good at” a sport, for example, get a chance to talk about how they might have felt inadequate any time they played that sport. Those negative feelings may have kept them from taking the time to get better, too.

It’s not expected that your social skills are already strong when you’re in recreational therapy. You may need help learning how to connect with people and engage with them. Finding new friends can be challenging, so getting help learning how to identify potential friends is valuable.

A sample of the positive social health results of recreational therapy includes better communication skills. Your interpersonal skills may improve, too, allowing you to be more effective and comfortable talking to others. Becoming more self-confident in social situations is another advantage. Your ability to balance giving and receiving in relationships is an additional way your social health can improve through recreational therapy. 

5. You become a more informed and active partner in your own health care.

Recreational therapy isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to depression. It’s driven by what you need specifically. These needs are influenced by your experiences, goals, and interests.

Learning how to identify what you need and want in life is a way to better advocate for yourself in any kind of treatment. It’s the same kind of “give and take” balance mentioned earlier in the social health section. You can be provided with a lot of choices; it’s up to you to actively respond to each one and be a partner in the health care path that gets put in place for you.

Some of the benefits of this kind of partnership in your health care include being able to make your own decisions independently and gaining a sense of self-confidence and self-respect. Your recreational therapist becomes a starting point for learning how to build allies in your mental health journey and experience teamwork. Also, learning how to appropriately express your needs and identify your goals only enhances this health care “partnership.”


Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting recovery.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.

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