Pursuing creative activities, bonding with animals and exploring the great outdoors are just a few of the many types of recreational therapy.

Does the phrase “drug rehab” make you think of sterile, minimalist environments and long, intense therapy sessions? It is true that addiction treatment and therapy requires a significant commitment and can be emotionally and physically exhausting. However, the goal of addiction treatment is to restore mental well-being, and that means learning how to enjoy and take care of yourself. Recreational therapy can show you how to do just that.

What Is Recreational Therapy?

So how does recreational therapy show you how to take care of yourself? What is recreational therapy, and how does it help with addiction treatment?

The recreational therapy definition from the American Therapeutic Recreation Association describes it as a “process that uses recreational activity-based intervention to help people with mental health conditions recover psychological and physical well-being.”

Types of Recreational Therapy

Many types of recreational therapy are used in addiction treatment and allow participants to find an activity that interests them. Some recreational therapy activities include:

  • Yoga Therapy: Practicing yoga can help someone in recovery learn healthy coping skills to manage stress. Exercise also naturally boosts serotonin levels. Practicing yoga may provide a positive outlet for stress, helping to reduce overall feelings of anxiety.
  • Canine Therapy: Canine therapy typically consists of playing with, petting, walking and grooming a dog. Canine therapy can boost someone’s confidence level, improve their mood, ease their feelings of anxiety and build social interaction skills.
  • Art Therapy: Art therapy allows people in recovery another way to express emotions that may come up in talk therapy. Painting or drawing, in addition to talk therapy, can allow people to examine the effects of their substance use and recognize how to change those behaviors.
  • Music Therapy: Music therapy is intended to help patients learn to manage physical, emotional or cognitive issues. Some benefits of music therapy include:
    • Reduction of stress, depression and anxiety
    • Promotes self-awareness
    • Self-expression
    • Encourages communication from patients who experienced trauma
  • Massage Therapy: Massage therapy typically involves bodywork techniques that calm the mind and relieve tension and stress. Massage therapy can also naturally produce dopamine and serotonin while releasing toxins built up from the patient’s substance misuse.
  • Adventure Therapy: Adventure therapy is a hands-on approach to psychotherapy. This kind of outdoor therapy usually includes rope courses, outdoor pursuits, wilderness expeditions and group games.
  • Llama Therapy: Go ahead and laugh — the whole point of llama therapy is to encourage laughter and joy. Animal therapy is a great addition to talk therapy for people in recovery. Some treatment centers are now implementing llama therapy for their patients to reduce withdrawal symptoms, chronic pain, depressionanxiety and fatigue. Research data is emerging on the effectiveness of animal therapy.

These different types of therapies allow people in treatment to discover something new or reignite an interest they once had. These activities are something they can continue to participate in after they’ve completed treatment and are in recovery.

Benefits of Recreational Therapy

The ultimate goal of recreational therapy for addiction treatment is to increase social interaction, effective communication, problem-solving and stress management. It also helps people in recovery to discover or reignite a passion for healthy interests and outlets. Recreational therapy is intended to promote sober fun so people can remain on the path to long-term recovery.

Benefits of recreational therapy include the promotion of addiction-free health and the enhancement of physical, cognitive, emotional and social development. These benefits allow people to navigate their daily lives without returning to substance use. What makes recreational therapy unique is that it can be tailored for each person to fit their long-term lifestyle goals.

The recovery process can be mentally and physically exhausting. Being able to participate in recreational therapy is usually a welcome break for people in addiction treatment. Some additional benefits of recreational therapy for mental health include:

  • Improved social function
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Decreased loneliness
  • Reinforced stress management
  • Increased focus
  • Increased feelings of control
  • Increased community involvement

Recreational Therapy in Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

Therapy in addiction treatment centers often revolves around recreational outlets. Before entering treatment, someone with a substance use disorder may have spent considerable free time obtaining and misusing substances. It’s important that people in recovery learn how to spend time effectively while having fun and taking care of needs.

In group and individual therapy sessions, people in addiction treatment learn that they have to manage their stress without using substances. Using recreational therapy for mental health and addiction treatment is not only a healthy way to relieve stress and anxiety, but also an excellent introduction to activities that someone might enjoy during and after rehab.

How The Recovery Village Uses Recreational Therapy

At The Recovery Village, our professional staff offers a continuum of care that includes many different types of recreational therapies. Some examples include yoga, canine therapy, art therapy and music therapy.

If you or someone you know lives with a substance use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village has centers around the U.S. with treatment programs that are designed to suit your specific needs. Call and speak to a representative to learn more about what treatment program and location can work for you.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

American Therapeutic Recreation Association. “About Recreational Therapy.” 2019. Accessed May 24, 2019.

Field, T., et al. “Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dop[…]ing massage therapy.” International Journal of Neuroscience, 2005. Accessed May 24, 2019.

Hiroharu, K., et al. “Effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2014. Accessed May 24, 2019.

Maujean, A., Pepping, C., Kendall, E. “A systematic review of randomized controlled trials of animal assisted therapy on psychosocial outcomes.” Anthrozoos A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.