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Brain Injury Rehabilitation: Is recreation really therapy?

After the shock of a brain injury often comes the reality that life isn’t returning to what was considered normal. The individual with the brain injury and their family find themselves in turbulent waters with a lifestyle and routine that has been temporarily or permanently altered. With an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustaining a brain injury annually and another estimated 5.3 million Americans are living with a permanent brain injury related disability, these individuals need to be well-prepared to continue to live a life that is personally meaningful.


Recreation Therapists play an important role in brain injury rehabilitation. As a primary member of the brain injury treatment team they have to look beyond rehabilitation toward the opportunities that a person with a brain injury will need to live a successful and fulfilling life. The Recreation Therapist uses information to identify the person’s interests and abilities and through a combination of formal assessment, conversation and observation helping them build leisure and recreation options that form a meaningful post-injury lifestyle for the individual. While “fixing” the individual with a brain injury is important, services need to focus on reconnecting the individual to the community and building independence and a meaningful life that continues long after rehabilitation has ended.


I recently attended a SHARE Night, where survivors of brain injuries take turns sharing their stories and life experiences before and after their brain injury. This event, organized and facilitated by a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist held by ReDiscover U in the Philadelphia area, was a great example of inspiration and empowerment. As the individuals took turns telling their stories it was powerful to hear their stories of trauma and their stories of life after a brain injury. As an observer, it was compelling to not only watch as individuals told their stories, but as they listened to the stories of others. There was a common bond in the room and an understanding among participants that felt agreeable and compassionate. As I drove home from the event, it struck me that the participants were doing the same – the only difference is that I was heading home toward a life that didn’t require much in the way of re-engineering over my years, but they were heading home toward a life that was significantly changed as a result of a moment in time that caused a significant change in their life.


Recreation Therapy plays an important role in moving on following a brain injury; it the critical element to maintaining (or re-establishing) self-value through social opportunities that occur in every aspect of life. It is a critical element to overcoming loneliness and isolation by reminding the individual and their family that accepting a new life doesn’t mean accepting a bad life, and that there are good things to come.


Everyone we work with deserves our belief and dedication to achieve a new and meaningful life and the Recreation Therapist has a significant role in helping the person with a brain injury find activities and connections that make their life fulfilling.

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